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The Inklings of Oxford
A Pictorial Account
By Harry Lee Poe
Copyright © 2009
Harry Lee Poe
All right reserved.
Chapter One Introduction
This book is not an ordinary book. It is both a picture book and a storybook. It tells all about a place and the friends who lived there. What makes the book special, though, is that it is not only about that place and those friends; it is also about you.
Everyone needs a special place all their own, even if they do not own it. Everyone needs friends who are always there, even if they are not there with us. What makes a place special for a person does not depend upon the place, but upon the person. What makes a person special is not so much the person, but the people who think they are special: their friends.
A person's high school or college may forever be the most special place because of the friends who made that place special. At an important time in life when people were changing from children into grownups, a few people shared in the amazing transformation. While the places where we live and work do not define us or determine who and what we will become, they do form the context in which we flourish, wither, or merely subsist. The places of our lives either nourish us or drain us. Places do not make us, but they provide the physical space in which we relate to the people who play such an important role, for good or ill, in shaping who we become. The special place of this book is the university and city of Oxford. The special people are a group of friends who lived there and called themselves the Inklings.
The City of Oxford
Oxford has been a remarkable place for a thousand years and has attracted fascinating people for each of those years. Around every corner and along every street, the echoes of its rich history abound. Walk under the Bridge of Sighs opposite the Bodleian Library, look to the left, and there stands the house, with its observation platform on top, where Edmund Halley made his astronomical observations and predicted the return of the comet named for him. Walk from Blackwell's Bookshop toward the church of St. Mary Magdalen, and in the center of Broad Street, just opposite Balliol College, lies a collection of white cobblestones that form a cross in the street to commemorate the spot where Archbishop Cranmer, Bishop Latimer, and Bishop Ridley were burned at the stake for the part they played in the reformation of the Church of England. Remnants of the old city wall still stand along the back side of Merton College, visible from Christ Church Meadow, and within the garden of New College, a reminder that King Charles I sought refuge within this fortified city during the English Civil War.
In this city in the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and sent out his students, two by two, to preach the gospel. In this city Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, Puritan chaplains to Oliver Cromwell, headed Magdalen and Christ Church colleges during the Commonwealth. In this city George Whitfield, John Wesley, and Charles Wesley founded the Holy Club and began their personal pursuits of God that would blossom as the First Great Awakening.
In this city lived some of the most well-known characters of English literature. From Christ Church Meadow, Alice followed a rabbit down a hole into Wonderland. Along the banks of the Cherwell River, which flows into the Isis at Oxford, lived Ratty, Badger, Mole, and the wonderful Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. In this city, Harriet Vane finally accepted the marriage proposal of Lord Peter Wimsey, and here they married at St. Cross Church. One of Chaucer's springtime pilgrims to Canterbury set out from Oxford. Here Inspector Morse kept the peace and Bertie Wooster's cousins Eustice and Claude frittered away their college years.
Oxford is a city that sets its own course, regardless of how the rest of the world goes. The River Thames flows below Oxford and above Oxford, but through the city flows the River Isis. The big bell in Tom Tower of Christ Church College tolls at five minutes past the hour according to Greenwich Mean Time because reason insists that Oxford is five minutes later than Greenwich. Even though Magdalen College pronounces its name Maudlin, St. Mary Magdalen Church pronounces its name the same way it would be pronounced anywhere else in the English-speaking world, except Cambridge of course, which also adds a final "e."
Oxford belongs to pedestrians, who stroll the narrow alley that leads from the High Street back to the secluded plaza of Oriel and Corpus Christi or the twisting passage that winds around from the Bridge of Sighs past the thirteenth-century Turf Tavern and out to Holywell Street. Pedestrians know the cobblestones that pave the college quads and the round river rocks that pave the yard around the Radcliffe Camera between St. Mary the Virgin Church and the Bodleian Library. Pedestrians notice the displays in the shop windows along the High Street and sculpted heads atop the gateposts outside the Sheldonian Theatre. Pedestrians have the time to glance up at the heads and creatures that ornament the buildings of Magdalen College or to peek in the college gates
Excerpted from The Inklings of Oxford by Harry Lee Poe Copyright © 2009 by Harry Lee Poe. Excerpted by permission.
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