The Masque of B-ll--l

The Masque of B-ll--l

Original Text
The Balliol Rhymes, ed. W. G. Hiscock, 2nd edn. (1939; Oxford: printed for the editor, 1955): 1-25. PN 6110 C7H5 Robarts Library


2There's no knowledge but I know it.
3I am Master of this College,
4What I don't know isn't knowledge.


J. L. S. D.
6Unbuttoned, cigaretted Dean,
7Brother numismatists, you see a
T. K. C.
10That I love a deaconess;
11I can wed without misgiving
12Now I've got a college living.
R. L. N.
14I am N-TTL-SH-P or so;
16That's all. I mean that's nearly all.
R. G. T.
18Dancing don; my name is T-TT-N;
19Like old wine in a new bottle
20Is my talk on Aristotle.
W. H. F.
22Now the Master me absorbs,
23Me and many other me's
24In his great Thucydides.
E. A.
26My man Tom must go also,
27He on foot, I in my chair;
28But that's neither here nor there.
A. C. B.
30`A secret that no man can keep.'
31If you won't let the Master know it,
32Or F-RB-S, I'll tell you, -- I'm a poet.
F. DE P.
34Little cynic P-R-VI,
35Virgil I can shrilly render
36Cock-a-hoop upon the fender.


Not on the Foundation

A. L. S.
38On disorganized finances;
39Who'd have looked for so much vigour
40In so very small a figure?
A. T.
42Learn of me, for I am Toynbee:
44To a sepulchre re-whited.
A. J. G.
46The scholar's peer, the don's delight.
48Of either' but their grace elect.
C. A. J.
50Eyebrows look astonishment;
51J-M-S and eyebrows you may sever;
52J-M-S and anecdotage never.
P. E. M.
54Than wooing, M-TH-S-N'S my name;
55I'm not what you would call intense,
56But I've uncommon common sense.
J. A. H.
58Is to be a politician;
59Judicious love of Art refines
60The paragon of Philistines.
A. J. F. A.
62By G-D'S just wrath a Balliol man;
63I'd rather dig the ground in dolour
64Than be a mathematical scholar.


J. W. M.
66You'll syllogize that I'm M-CK-L;
67In all I do I score always,



A. N. C.


F. C. M.
74From me, for I am M-NT-GUE;
75With head aslant I softly cram
76The world into an epigram.


H. C. C. M.
78Insipid epigrammatist,
79Of eccentricity I'm proud,
80A human artichoke, M-CL--D.
C. A. S. R.
82When you've an uncle like SPR-NG R-CE?
83My versatility is such
84None likes me little, or knows me much.
H. C. B.
87I write poems; but one saith
88My poems are a form of death.
L. H.
90Fond of jokes and laughter, very:
91If I laughed at what was witty,
92I should laugh less, which were pity.


J. M. M.
94Soft my speech, for I'm M-CK-Y;
G. H. B.
98Flows my speech, for I am B-TT-RSBY;
99Never swan nor yet giraffe
100Had so GRAND a throat by half.
S. L. L.
102Learned in modern history,
103My gown, the wonder of beholders
104Hangs like a foot-note from my shoulders.


H. E. B.
106And my ballads do me credit,
107I'm in everything that's going,
108I know everyone worth knowing.
G. N. C.
110My name is G--RGE N-TH-N--L C-RZ-N, Mary,
111I'll make a speech on any political question of the day, Mary,
112Provided you'll not say me nay, Mary.
B. M.
114Not arouse a smile in M-LL-T?
115Thro' my eyelids softly peeping
116Like as one that walketh sleeping.
L. S. B.
118Not in rhyme shall we be parted,
119SCL-T-R- B--TH and SCL-T-R- B--TH,
C. E. D.
122Uch an epic style as D-WK-NS;
123Creeds are nought and M-N is all,
124Spell Him with a capital.
L. F. S.
127Art and orthodoxy wait
R. W. S.
130That you'd become as thin as S-MPS-N:
131You might by trying to defer
132So obstinate a questioner.
A. C. G. D.
134Whether life be worth the living;
136Friend be brought to talk of Buddha.
C. J. J.
138You'll find you are the weaker vessel;
139But as I occupy the ground
140You have your choice, so which way round?
J. C. E. B.
142Govern all things; some first cause
143May exist, but I don't know;
144It's Nature makes my whiskers grow.
J. B. B. N.
146Down the sphinx-like face of N-CH-LS;
147My hair is black, my china blue,
A. C.
150In my grave sweet way I scan
151Western life. My thoughts would fill a
G. G. R.
154Coat and gloves and buttonhole;
156Seeing me, for I am R-PT-N.
S. B.
158Half so fine a man as BR-RL-Y;
159But I cheerfully acknowledge
160Harvard's whipped by B-LL--L College.


1] In 1880, seven mischievous undergraduates at Balliol College, Oxford, published The Masque of B-ll--l, a broadsheet of forty quatrains making light of their superiors -- the Master and selected Fellows, Scholars, and Commoners -- and themselves. The outraged authorities immediately suppressed the collection, and only a few copies survived, three of which found their way into the College Library over the years, and one into the Bodleian Library. William Tuckwell included 18 of these quatrains in his Reminiscences in 1900, but they all came out only in 1939, thanks to Walter George Hiscock, an Oxford librarian, who issued them personally then and in a second edition in 1955.
Hiscock based his later edition on the Library copies, as well as on copies by three of the original writers, H. C. Beeching, J. W. Mackail, and J. A. Hamilton, Lord Sumner, and on two partial lists, one by a fourth author, C. A. Spring-Rice, and the other by Robert Scott, a subsequent Master of the College.
Hiscock used manuscript annotations on several of these copies to attribute the forty quatrains to their supposed authors. Henry Charles Beeching (1859-1919), future Dean of Norwich, wrote or co-wrote nineteen (1, 4-8, 11, 14-18, 21-22, 24, 26, 28, 36, and perhaps 40); and John William Mackail (1859-1945), future Fellow (1882-91) and Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1906-11), wrote or co-wrote fifteen (9-10, 13, 15, 18-19, 25, 31, 33-34, 37-39, and perhaps 3 and 32). Eight were authored or co-authored by the remaining five: John Andrew Hamilton, Lord Somner (2, 20, 35), Percy Ewing Matheson (1859-1946), Fellow of New College (1881-1946; 11), John Bowyer Buchanan Nichols (23, and perhaps 29-30), Lucius Frederick Smith, future Bishop Suffragan of Knaresborough (3?), and Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice (1859-1918), later knighted and made British Ambassador to the United States. Beeching and Spring-Rice published verse collections of their own, and Mackail translated the Greek Anthology and the Odyssey.
The best of these quatrains -- 1, 3, 6, 13, 20, 22, 26-27, 35, and 38 among them -- skewer the arrogance and silliness of Academe at all places and times, not just their named targets in one (admittedly brilliant) Oxford College. Beeching, Hamilton, Mackail, Matheson, Nichols, Smith, and Spring-Rice did to college life what Alexander Pope did to Grub Street.

  • The Balliol Rhymes. Ed. W. G. Hiscock. 2nd edn. 1939; Oxford: printed for the editor, 1955. PN 6110 C7H5 Robarts Library
  • Tuckwell, William. Reminiscences of Oxford. London: Cassell, 1900. LF 509 .T9 1900 Trinity College Library

J-W-TT: Benjamin Jowett (1817-93), M.A., and Master, Balliol College (1870 to 1893); translator of Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plato, and writer of essays and sermons. Back to Line

5] James Leigh Strachan Davidson (1844-1916), Fellow (1866-1907), Master (1907-16). J. W. Mackail wrote James Leigh Strachan-Davidson, Master of Balliol, a memoir (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925). Back to Line
8] a Dahabeeah: a Nile-River boat. Back to Line
9] Thomas Kelly Cheyne (1841-1915), Fellow and Chaplain (1868-1882), Oriel professor of the interpretation of Scripture at Oxford (1885-1908), English cleric and critic, editor, and translator of the Bible. Back to Line
13] Richard Lewis Nettleship (1846-1892), Fellow (1869-92), and writer on Plato. Back to Line
15] gated after Hall: confined to College precincts after dinner. Back to Line
17] Robert Grey Tatton, Fellow (1872-1887). Back to Line
21] William Henry Forbes (1851-1914), Fellow (1873-1896), and editor of Book I of Thucidides. Back to Line
25] Evelyn Abbott (1843-1901), Fellow (1874-1901), scholar of Greek and editor of Jowett's letters. Back to Line
29] Andrew Cecil Bradley (1851-1935), Fellow (1874-76), Lecturer (1876-81), and critic of English poetry, Tennyson, and Shakespeare (especially his Shakespearean Tragedy). Back to Line
33] Francis de Paravicini, baron, Fellow (1878-1908). His wife Frances, the baroness, authored The Early history of Balliol College (1891; information courtesy of Geoffrey Neate). Back to Line
37] Arthur Lionel Smith (1850-1924), Tutor and Fellow (1879-1916), Master (1916-24), a medieval English historian. Back to Line
41] Arnold Toynbee (1852-1883), Tutor and Fellow (1878-1883), and English historian. His nephew was Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889-1975), author of A Study of History. Back to Line
43] GR--N: Toynbee edited Thomas Hill Green's The Witness of God, and Faith; two lay sermons (London, Longmans, 1891). Back to Line
45] Archibald John Grahame, B.A. (1882). Back to Line
47] Quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, "The Witch of Atlas", stanza XXXVI, lines 329-36:
A sexless thing it was, and in its growth It seemed to have developed no defect Of either sex, yet all the grace of both, -- In gentleness and strength its limbs were decked; The bosom swelled lightly with its full youth, The countenance was such as might select Some artist that his skill should never die, Of either' but their grace elect. Imaging forth such perfect purity.
Back to Line
49] Charles Ashworth James (died 1937), Fellow of Hertford College (1881-92), author of an 1893 report on mining royalties. Back to Line
53] Percy Ewing Matheson (1859-1946), Fellow of New College (1881-1946), Roman historian, editor of Demosthenes and Epictetus Epictetus, and translator of Anton Reiser by Carl Philipp Moritz. Back to Line
57] John Andrew Hamilton, later Baron Sumner (1913), Fellow of Magdalene College (1882-89). Back to Line
61] Alfred John French Adams, B.A. (1881), died 1898. Back to Line
65] John William Mackail (1859-1945), Fellow (1882-91), Professor of Poetry, Oxford University (1906-11), O.M. (1935), translator of the Greek Anthology and the Odyssey, critic of S. T. Coleridge and William Morris, editor of Virgil, and literary historian of Greek and Latin literature. Back to Line
68] à l'écossaise: in the way of the Scots. Back to Line
69] Alexander Neilson Cumming, B.A. (1882). Back to Line
70] Hegel: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher. Back to Line
71] Mr. Ruskin: John Ruskin (1819-1900), English essayist and reformer. Back to Line
72] Cobden: Cumming won the Cobden Prize in 1880 (for an essay). Back to Line
73] Francis Charles Montague (1858-1935), Fellow of Oriel College (1881), English legal and constitutional historian. Back to Line
77] Henry Crawford Crichton Macleod (1857-), B.A. (1881). Back to Line
81] Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice (1859-1918), author of Poems (London: Longmans, Green, 1920). See also The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice: a Record, ed. Stephen Gwynn (Boston: Houghton, 1929). British ambassador to the United States. Back to Line
85] Henry Charles Beeching (1859-1919), Dean of Norwich (1911), author of Lyra Sacra: a Book of Religious Verse (London: Methuen, 1895), and of editions of Milton, Tennyson, Vaughan, and other English poets. Back to Line
86] Busby and Burne-Jones: Beeching had won the Busby Theological Prize (Hiscock, 15); Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-98), English painter. Back to Line
89] Leonard Huxley (1860-1933), B.A. (1883), the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog," editor of the explorer R. F. Scott's last journals, and of letters by his father, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Jane Carlyle, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. Back to Line
93] John Macdonald Mackay, Professor of History, University College, Liverpool (1884-1914). See A Miscellany Presented to John Macdonald Mackay, LL.D., July, 1914 (Liverpool: University Press, 1914). Back to Line
95] Aphrodeety: Aphrodite, Venus. Back to Line
96] "Nicholson was a friend of Mackay's, an artist, who was then living in Oxford" (Hiscock, 16). Back to Line
97] George Harford Battersby. Back to Line
101] Solomon Lazarus Levi (1859-1926), or (as Benjamin Jowatt urged him to sign himself) Sidney Lee, editor of The Dictionary of National Biography (1891-1901) and of Shakespeare, and literary historian of the English Renaissance. He was knighted in 1911. Back to Line
105] Harold Edwin Boulton (1859-1935), Director of Burt, Boulton (timber merchants), and co-editor of Songs of the North, gathered together from the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, with A.C. Macleod; and of Our National Songs, with Arthur Somervell.
Waifs and strays: an undergraduate verse journal then in Oxford. Back to Line
109] George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925), later Earl, M.P., Viceroy of India, Chancellor, University of Oxford, statesman (undersecretary of state for India, 1891-92, and undersecretary for foreign affairs, 1895-98), and author of books on India, Persia, and Russia. As foreign secretary in the Asquith cabinet (1919-24), Curzon presided over the Conference of Lausanne. Curzon "had written in verse that he was joined to a suppositious Mary by a seal (sigillum)" (Hiscock, 19). Back to Line
113] Sir Bernard Mallet (1859-1932), Registrar-General (1909) and author of a three-volume set on British budgets. Back to Line
117] George Limbrey Sclater Booth (1860-1919), later Lord Basing, and Charles Lutley Sclater Booth (-1957). Back to Line
120] Behemoth: monstrous beast. Back to Line
121] Clinton Edward Dawkins, civil servant, later Sir (1859-1905). Back to Line
125] Lucius Frederick Moses Bottomley Smith, Bishop Suffragan of Knaresborough (1905). Back to Line
126] "Bliss was the Scout on that staircase" (Hiscock, 21). Back to Line
128] Archbiaconate: a play on `arch-diaconate,' the head of deacons. Back to Line
129] Reginald Wynne Simpson, B.A. (1883). Back to Line
133] Arthur Cuninghame Grant Duff. Back to Line
135] a balm in Gilead: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" (Jer. 8.22). Back to Line
137] Charles James Jessel, later a Baronet (1883). Back to Line
141] James Charles Emerton Branson, I.C.S. Back to Line
145] John Bowyer Buchanan Nichols, graduated 1879. Back to Line
148] Bottocellis: paintings of Sando Botticelli (1444?-1510). Back to Line
149] Aboul Kassem Khan Nasserul-Moulk, Sir, Premier of Persia (1911). Back to Line
152] Bismillah: "In the name of Allah or God" (Arabic Muslim exclamation). Back to Line
153] Guy George Repton, B.A. (1884). Back to Line
155] Brummel: Beau Brummel (1778-1840), an English dandy. Back to Line
157] Samuel Brearley, died 1887. Back to Line
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes
The Masque of B-ll--l (1881). Balliol Library; Bodleian Library.
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition