June 9th, 1847 (St. Columba’s Day, part II)

June 10, 2009

The Ceremony of Installation being ended, I conducted Mrs Acland down to the Common Room, and then went in with Sewell to see how the dinner was arranged, and that all matters were right. We met Mrs Burky in tears, tears of joy. She said that a year ago she had not the remotest expectation of ever being so happy again during her whole life, as she was now; that she never dreamt of being once more the Dame of a College with oneself for its warden, – and that she hoped we would not think that her delight at her present situation would ever lead her to forget her duty.

The table looked charming. Mr Johnston had erected a temporary structure, like broad benches for carpenters’ use. These were arranged in a T shape. To hide the unevenness we put quilts over the planks, and then covered the quilts with our own table cloths, which had just been finished, and looked as white as snow, or as linen possibly can. The dishes were all of cold viands, including some tarts, and blanc-manges. There was abundance, but the table did not groan either literally or metaphorically. Several bowls of flowers were spread about, and gave a gay and finished look to the repast, while our plate added a quiet handsomeness, exactly suited to the sort of College that we want to have. It was greatly admired.

At the head of the table one of the Bristol chairs was placed for the Warden, and on each side were four chairs which had been formerly in Carlton Palace, and had fallen into Mallam’s hands, and from his into ours.

Before we assembled at dinner I implored Sewell not to drink my health, but he was inexorable. He said that it would be expected from him; and that if he did not propose the toast somebody else undoubtedly would; and that the omission would be un-English: so I was compelled to submit. I then told him that I must in that case propose his in return as Founder, but he besought me not to do so so pathetically, that I yielded, and thus showed him more mercy that he showed me. How I do abhor a share in public proceedings; and of all things I tremble at the prospect of having to make a speech.

All matters being now arranged under the superintendence of Hewlett that Common-Room man at Exeter, I took Mrs Acland down, Sewell Miss Richards, and Wade Miss H Richards. When dinner drew toward a close, the beautiful Grace-cup full of some beverage prepared by Hewlitt, was brought to Sewell, who rose and said that it was essential to a College that it should have a ‘Poculum Caritatis’; that he had some years ago caused the one in his hands to be laid by for him, on account of its beauty and suitableness; and that he had always intended it for some College or other, having thought of Exeter and St. Augustine’s, but that he was now happy that it had remained in his possession until the present time; concluding with words to this effect:

I have much pleasure, Mr Warden, in presenting this Grace-cup to the College of St Peter. You may observe that there are brute animals represented on its sides, and that it is crowned by an ancient figure of a Bishop with a crozier in hand, symbolising the universal triumph of religion. May it prove to this College a cup of grace, the type of brotherly love, and the bond of peace and unity.’ Having taken a draught, he handed it to me; upon which I rose and expressed, ‘in behalf of the College, the high value which we placed upon the ancient usages of such Societies, and that we should always feel it a happiness as well as a privilege to imitate them where practicable; returning our best thanks for the handsome gift now offered.

I then took a draught myself, and handed the cup to Miss Richards, who did the same, and then each of the company in turn, who stood up as they drank. What the fluid tasted like I am sure I don’t know. I was in such a fuss that I should have been none the wiser, had it been ink.

After this ensued a short interval, which was not spent in the happiest way imaginable by me, for I knew my fate was now at hand, and felt more as if I was going to be executed than to have my health drank. Accordingly Sewell stood up, and instantly all was silence. He then observed that ‘we had a custom at St Columba’s of never sitting after dinner in Hall or Common Room drinking wine, but that on Saints’ days and on certain other festal occasions, we used to partake moderately of it during dinner, and in very particular instances to drink one toast, and but one. That in accordance with this principle he was now about to propose a toast, which he had no doubt would be responded to unanimously, as it would be anticipated by all. He added some eulogistic remarks, (which in all sincerity, I wholly forget,) and ended by saying: ‘The toast that I have now the pleasure of giving is, – God bless the Warden of St Peter’s’; to which all the company added ‘Amen.’ – This was very painful, and almost past bearing; – but on great occasions excitement seems to furnish unnatural nerve, so I bore it. After bowing in acknowledgement of the salutations on all sides, I rose and spoke briefly; but what I said I’m sure is not worth recording, and I doubt if I could remember it. However, I took occasion to ‘thank those present for the very great kindness and attention which I had received at their hands, and which I said affected me the more as it was shown to a stranger, and wholly free from all appearance of effort.’ Sewell told me afterwards that I had said just enough, and that people were pleased; a comfort proportioned to my apprehension. The whole company then retired, and shortly afterwards quitted the College, very much struck, and very highly pleased, by the proceedings of the day.

I scarcely ever remember to have been more delighted at the termination of any thing, for I was fagged beyond measure. As to Sewell, he lay down on the floor and rested his head against a chair. My head was splitting. He soon became somewhat recovered, and walked into Oxford with Edward Sewell and Nugent Wade. On taking leave of me (for I was to go away the next day,) he said; – ‘What a comfort to send you back to your mother once more a Warden.’

Captain Haskoll and I walked with Monk part of the way into Oxford, but I had such a pain in my head that I could not go far. The glow-worms shone, and the nightingales whistled, as we returned. I managed a hearty supper, of which I stood somewhat in need, having eaten scarcely anything at dinner, I was in such a fuss, though no one could detect any uneasiness. What a great work it is which we have now taken the first formal step; one scarcely dares to think of all the responsibility which we have incurred. What damage to the cause of truth if we should fail: – quod absit!

The first part of this entry is here.

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