Detail from ‘Bucks of the First Head’ by Thomas Rowlandson (c.1785)
The streets of Oxford are once again filling with swaggering youths. Around the country other university towns – left to their own devices during the summer – are already faced with the returning swarms of bright young things. Each year, the papers offer their wisdom to excitable freshers (‘Condoms! Bluetack! A saucepan!’) and their parents (‘Remain calm. Absolutely NO WEEPING.’), but little attention is given to the local residents left to cope with the seasonal student offensive.
Not so in the Georgian era, if contemporary prints are anything to go by. Above all, locals had reason to be alarmed by the arrival of charming undergraduates – with their fancy breeches and their book-learning ways – because they posed a real danger to the chastity of local girls.
The lesson to be learned from each print is the same: don’t let your impressionable young daughters fall prey to wily students. Keep them indoors at all times – until you can find a more dependable young man to whom they might be more safely and profitably introduced, obviously.
When travelling through Oxfordshire in the 1790s, our old friend the amateur caricaturist and writer Mustard George remarked:
“In pursuing my journey from Woodstock to Islip, I made an observation that Oxonians are not always immaculate”.
He was so appalled by the scene before him that he chose to immortalise it in a sketch (reproduced here by the more skilled hand of Isaac Cruikshank). A young woman with a basket relaxes into the creeping embrace of a fashionable Oxford undergraduate. She lays a hand upon his knee and has obviously been distracted from her errand for some time – a bored dog sleeps at their feet. Both appear somewhat flushed and oblivious to the prying eyes of passing travellers.
Detail from ‘Love & Learning’, in George Woodward’s Eccentric Excursions (1796)
Detail from ‘Love & Learning, or, the Oxford scholar’ (1786)
Detail from ‘Soft Nonsense, or, conjugating the verb amo’ (1823)