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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

'Modern Cambridge' in the 1940s

I bought a book from Cambridge market yesterday, embracing my graduands nostalgia pre-emptively, called 'Cambridge', written by John Steegman in 1940. When Steegman died, he bequeathed his life's papers - unpublished articles, letters, diaries and all - to King's College, but his Cambridge book is one which did get published. Flicking through it, it seemed pretty interesting but one part jumped out at me - Modern Cambridge. This part contains writings about Modern Cambridge c. 1940, Modern Architecture and, best of all, some predictions about the future of Cambridge. Here are some good extracts for us all to ponder over - and ask, what has changed and what hasn't. I'm going to serialise them, so I am. Today, we have Modern Cambridge (1940s). Next, Modern Archtecture (1940s). And finally, 'The Future of Cambrdige (1940s).

I've categorised them for you.

For those who went to Comprehensives
But there are other qualities about Cambridge that make it not the most suitable place in the world for the son of humble parents. Class-distinction is nowadays a thing "gentlemen don't discuss in public," but it exists and will survive in England longer than elsewhere in Europe. It is strong at Cambridge, as at Oxford, nowadays chiefly because it is a rather new phenomenon. It used not to exist because the universities had long since ceased to exist for poor scholars and had been gradually taken over by the priveleged class. As privelege has tended to disappear in the last two or three generations, attempts are constantly being made to open the universities to a wider world. The fact, however, remains that they do still exist primarily for people of a certain social rank, of a certain financial standing, or a certain standard of pre-University education, and with a certain domestic and family background. What all these "certain" standards are cannot be defined, but every one really knows what they imply.
The poor man from the elementary school really does not very much out of Cambridge. He is not likely to make many friends and will almost certainly remain a fish out of water. He would be much wiser to go to one of the newer universities where he would feel less discontented with his lot. Discouraging though it may be for social reformers, the man from the elementary school is unquestionably excluded from everything that makes Cambridge worthwhile. For him, Cambridge is not worthwhile.

For thespians
The A.D.C. corresponds to the O.U.D.S. of Oxford, but does not have to engage professional actresses, being content to rely on the wealth of talent to be found among the don's widows, wives and daughters.

Athletics and politics are indulged in by most young men at both the universities. The extreme cultivation of both activities is indulged in by minorities, which are always noisy and which, suffering from the arrested development which is the heritage of English youth, bring with them the habits and cliches of the school playing-field and debating-society... Undergraduate politics are not a matter of great importance or interest, and it is sheer nonsense to regard the Union debates as being barometers of opinion.

For Lefties
All young men tend to the left in politics if they are gifted with eloquence, and to the right if they are not.

For finalists
The aim of Cambridge teaching is not to show young men a quick route to success and not primarily to train them for a specfic type of job... The avowed careerist will probably find Cambridge unsympathetic to his ambitions, and the impatient man had better cut out the place altogether and go straight to a training school or a business-house.

For those MPs calling for the scrapping of the Oxbridge MA
What is Cambridge for? Not primarily to give a man the degree of B.A., as he can get that at London or Bristol and will have to work harder for it probably; not, certainly, to enable him to proceed to M.A., since that, happily, can be done by simply paying a fee instead of having to sweat for two years over a thesis. This is one of the few pieces of privelege which is left to us, and only a prig would sanctimoniously deplore that a Cambridge M.A. which is bought has a far greater prestige than a London one, which is worked for.

For us all
The parent who sends him son up to Cambridge must be quite clear about the meaning of "education"; he must realise that in these days it is something of a luxury, since one of the things it does not mean is "to train for a specific job or occupation." Among the things it does mean are "to form habits, manners, mental and physical aptitudes"; "systematic instruction in preparation for the work of life" and "the culture or development of powers and the formation of character."

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