Saturday, May 29, 2010

The All Souls examination
Tom Smith

Here the NY Times speaks of the famous All Souls exam, which was and probably still is the object of much awe amongst Oxford undergraduates and probably others too on that fair isle.  All Souls is a uniquely Oxonian institution, which consists of a spectacularly beautiful medieval (or thereabouts) college, no students, and fellows who are entirely at leisure to sit about being brilliant and one (or somebody, anyway) hopes produce worthy books.  I think I thought about sitting for the All Souls exam back in the day and I believe I would have done well at it, as one thing I know I was very good at was writing the sort of essay that seems to be prized highly at that ancient university.  Unfortunately, the written exam was only part of the process and much interviewing is also required, during which one had to demonstrate that one had the sort of personality that elderly and not so elderly dons would want to be around for years to come.  Not to mention the wherewithal to manipulate obscure eating utensils upon nearly impossible to consume objects produced by the college's famous kitchen.  I thought then, and I was surely correct, that there was little chance the entities of All Souls would find me sufficiently personally appealing that they would want to bless me with the prestige but not the riches of a fellowship.  The one professor at All Souls I had met had taken an instant dislike for me for suggesting that a background in the history of politics and the philosophy of politics might be an adequate background to begin studying politics as such.  A former fellow of All Souls at Cornell had described the place as an excruciating hell where one might be cornered and lectured for hours on such topics as Shakespeare's use of pronouns.  He left his fellowship early and went on to a career of poetry and even better received debauchery, the former often evidently inspired by the latter.  Let's just say that were I a young fellow there, I should not have been terribly surprized to see floating outside the leaded glass window of my rooms of a midnight with no material means of support, a smiling and elderly scholar of Pindar, tapping gently to be let in. Alas, my fascination with other and superior cultures only goes so far. In my year, they ended up giving the fellowship to the first or one of the first women ever to get the honor, a philosopher of rare talent and even rarer beauty, who went on to have a brilliant career in philosophy.  It had also not escaped my notice that the men selected tended to rather Adonis like themselves, which, call me a crass American, really gave me pause.  And so I went to law school, where I found the professors disappointing in a much more straightforward and American way.

| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The All Souls examination
Tom Smith


I dunno, but I imagine that Oxford doesn't take much of a liking to Americans who haven't mastered English grammar and who spell "surprised" with a 'z'.

Posted by: Jimbino | May 29, 2010 5:53:36 PM

How would you have done on the languages paper?

Posted by: dearieme | May 30, 2010 8:07:27 AM

I dunno Jimbino. I got the best first in philosophy that year at Oxford, the Wilde Prize and a DPhil studentship at Nuffield, so possibly they're willing to overlook an idiosyncrasy or two. Only since you provoke me. I would have been done for with the languages paper, true. Bad french and worse italian maybe. See also

Posted by: Tom Smith | May 30, 2010 11:08:08 AM

By golly, you hit him for six, Mr Smith.

Posted by: dearieme | May 30, 2010 11:34:52 AM

Jimbino probably doesn't realize that there are lots of quite brilliant academics who can't spell for shit.

Posted by: Mark | May 30, 2010 3:51:30 PM

That last line is the funniest, most poignant thing I've read in months.

Posted by: Ed | May 30, 2010 7:32:17 PM


Posted by: supra shoes | Feb 15, 2011 1:07:57 AM

Totally funny!

Posted by: lwrc rifles | Mar 8, 2011 9:29:27 PM