A. A. Milne

The university boat race

(from Punch Mar 31, 1909 p 222)

[EDITOR. Let me see, the Boat Race is next Saturday. You might write an article about it.
AUTHOR. Certainly, if you desire it. But I don't know one end of an oar from the other.
EDITOR. One end's flatter than the other; that's how you can tell.
AUTHOR. Thanks. I'll point that out.
EDITOR. Don't be too technical. Hadn't you better take a shilling from the stamp drawer and run down to Putney this afternoon, and then come back and do us a nice breezy sketch?
AUTHOR. By all means.]

Mortlake is a small town in the Kingston Parliamentary Division of Surrey, situated some six miles west of London as the crow flies. Its population at the last census was estimated roughly at 7,774, though many experts consider that 7,775 would have been nearer the mark. However, even this figure will be exceeded on Saturday next, when a party of nine Putney residents educated at Cambridge University will journey thither by water, followed (or possibly preceded) by a similar party of nine who claim Oxford University for their alma mater.

This exodus from Putney is now an annual event, which is eagerly looked forward to by the young participants. Why, I am often asked, do they always select Mortlake as the object of their visit? Are there not more interesting resorts in the neighborhood? Before I answer this question, let us take a look at the eighteen young gentlemen who will join the excursion this year. Perhaps that will help us to an appreciation of their partiality for this fascinating village.

[AUTHOR. Am I being breezy enough?
EDITOR. I can't think what on earth you imagine you're doing.
AUTHOR. It was partly the guard's fault-I went on to Mortlake by mistake. Such an interesting place.]

First and foremost, primus inter pares, as Cicero used to say, we have Mr. Stuart, the doyen of the Light Blue party. Mr. Stuart has been to Mortlake no less than four times already, and is still as enthusiastic as ever over its historic associations. He will be able to point out to Mr. Rosher the famous tablet to Sir Philip Francis ("Junius" Francis, as he was known to his intimates), erected in the parish church to his memory in the year 1818. The church itself, as Mr. Williams (who has been here once before) may remind him, occupies the site of an edifice of the 14th century, the tower still dating from 1543. This tablet is a favorite one of Mr. Stuart's, and on three previous occasions he has reverently called the attention of his confrères to it, before the quiet of the place has been rudely disturbed by the arrival of the Oxford party. On the occasion of the fourth excursion, when nine young Americans took the places of the Dark Blue pilgrims, Mr. Stuart, with characteristic national courtesy, waited at the landing-stage until they had all arrived, before leading the way into the venerable edifice.

Another enthusiast over the old brasses in Mortlake church is young Mr. Kirby; so much so, indeed, that he has paid three previous visits to them. For some reason or other, however, he always gets there a little late; consequently he has not been able to devote so much study to them as he could have wished. His friends earnestly hope that next Saturday, at any rate, he will arrive in good time.

[AUTHOR. I fancy I have put that rather tactfully.
EDITOR. Oh, get on, and get it over.
AUTHOR. You will like this next bit. This is really a spicy little bit of gossip.]

One of the show places of Mortlake is the Brewery. Mention of this reminds me that the time has come to reveal the secret history of the dispute which recently raged around Mr. Stuart and his fellow-student, Mr. Arbuthnot. The boat in which the Cambridge party annually proceeds to Mortlake is so narrow that there is only room to sit one abreast; generally, therefore, there is some discussion as to the order in which the excursionists shall be seated. Now on the occasion of the University wayzgoose the Brewery, with ready hospitality, throws its doors open to the inspection of the tourists, with the necessary proviso that only the first one to enter shall be allowed to sample the different vintages. It is obvious, therefore, that the man seated in the "bows," or thin end of the boat, is the one who will arrive at Mortlake first, and, therefore, the one most likely to obtain this privilege. Mr. Stuart loudly insisted that it was his turn for this; while his friends considered that it was his duty to remain at the thick end of the boat, where he could see and, if necessary, encourage the Oxford party. Mr. Stuart felt that this encouragement would come better from a younger man, and recommended Mr. Arbuthnot for the position. Hence the trouble. Mr. Arbuthnot may now have to wait for another year before he can visit Mortlake; and when he does so it is to be hoped that he will remember to look out for the tomb of Sir Richard Burton.

[AUTHOR. I say, shall I stop being so technical?
EDITOR. When did you think of stopping altogether?
AUTHOR. I see what it is; you're offended because I haven't brought in what you told me about the oars.]

But Mortlake has other associations than those I have already mentioned. It was here that the two famous astrologers, Dee and Partridge, resided; indeed Queen Elizabeth herself is currently reported to have consulted the first-named in this very village. Dee, who, in the language of the period, was "hardebakyd enowe to knowe ye flatte ende of ye oare from ye roundde one," mistook the identity of his client, and prophesied for her a numerous family and some success in life: which so much amused the Queen that she presented him with the Elizabethan Order.

Before I close this article [Hooray! - ED.] -

Before I close this article [Hooray! - ED.] -

Before I - [Hoo - ED.] -

In conclusion I feel it my duty to say that the second-class return fare to Mortlake is one and threepence, and that the Editor only gave me twelve old stamped addressed envelopes, so that I was actually threepence out of pocket, in addition to the taste of the gum, and when I honestly try to collect a little information about the place I was sent to - or, anyhow, arrived at, so as to write an article upon a subject about which I should otherwise have known nothing, I am made the stock, that is the laughing-butt, I mean the--

Well, anyhow, may the best boat win!

(1909)

MLA Citation

Milne, A. A.. “The university boat race.” 1909. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 1 Oct 2007. 25 Mar 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/milne/university_boat_race/>.

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