Microcosmographica Academica

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, July 14, 2005.

I’m learning my way around Inside Higher Ed. It’s a wonderful news site for affairs of higher education generally.

One of the recent pieces that has popped up there is a review of a 1908 English work of satire and wit called Microcosmographica Academica. It was authored by Francis M. Cornford, who was at the time a not-too-young professor of classics at Cambridge. An online copy of the book is available; it’s apparently escaped to the public domain, always a good thing.

The text itself I’m only starting to get through, but I’m already absolutely clobbered by one of Cornford’s descriptions. As you work your way through the parties involved in academic politics, after he describes Conservative Liberals, Liberal Conservatives (and those two are as different as they appear to be), Non-placets (men of principle) and Adullamites (men who want all the money there is going), we reach this beast:

The Young Man in a Hurry is a narrow-minded and ridiculously youthful prig, who is inexperienced enough to imagine that something might be done before very long, and even to suggest definite things. His most dangerous defect being want of experience, everything should be done to prevent him from taking any part in affairs. He may be known by his propensity to organise societies for the purpose of making silk purses out of sows’ ears. This tendency is not so dangerous as it might seem; for it may be observed that the sows, after taking their washing with a grunt or two, trundle back unharmed to the wallow; and the purse-market is quoted as firm. The Young Man in a Hurry is afflicted with a conscience, which is apt to break out, like measles, in patches. To listen to him, you would think that he united the virtues of a Brutus to the passion for lost causes of a Cato; he has not learnt that most of his causes are lost by letting the Cato out of the bag, instead of tying him up firmly and sitting on him, as experienced people do.

Ho-lee shaving cream.

I am convicted. Nay, I am pricked to my very soul.

I’m gonna have to read more of this.

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