‘Do not take a girl home from the tobacconists’: the Victorians’ guide to freshers’ week


As freshers’ week rolls back round, there’s something heartening in knowing exactly how much new students are linked by one eternal chain of vomit-flecked, sexually incontinent library panic to the generations that came before.

Nothing better illustrates the principle that Isaac Newton was once just a kid in too-tight ruffs with bad taste in chamber music better than a new exhibition at St John’s College, Cambridge.

As part of Open Cambridge, the college is exhibiting a range of ancient student paraphernalia, including a manual from 1893, called Freshers Don’t, written by A Sympathiser, advising new undergraduates of the pitfalls to avoid.

Sensibly, A Sympathiser – later identified as Arthur John Story – has no Dos, only injunctions, to help his junior colleagues.

True, the Bordeaux dilemma has shifted terrain. He advises: Don’t attempt to keep every brand of wine under the sun. Most undergrads cannot distinguish ‘Bordeaux’ from ‘Burgundy’ if served in a decanter. The latter-day equivalent probably has more to do with economising your snakebite by avoiding food all day and jogging on the spot. But the underlying principle is that, with grants slashed and fees up, a few simple economies can tide you over.

Apart from his advice on wine, Story also has some listicles on women: Don’t, if you are in lodgings, get too familiar with your landlady’s daughter, as she is probably more clever than you. He adds: With other men’s landlady’s daughters you may be less particular, but even then – take care. Nowadays, this is covered by: If you insist on videoing your genitals, you must start from the assumption that this footage will make its way on to the internet.

Don’t, by any chance, speak to girls without introduction, Story goes on. However innocent may be the motive, such practices are the worst distraction a student can foster. Today, this is represented in the widely repeated aphorism: If she keeps turning up on your Happn, you’re probably going to have to walk past her every day for months after you break up (you idiot).

On music, there’s the rule not to play piano all day, however accomplished you may be, covered in 2016 by the freshers’ standby of: No one wants to hear your trap, grime and ironic tropicalia DJ set at the Whispering Moon.

Of course, there are crucial differences, too. Story reveals a world where business was much tougher in the cigarette-vending industry: Do not take a girl home from the tobacconists or confectioners. You gain nobody’s respect by so doing and the girl’s only notion is to encourage a good customer.

He also offers advice that has become more urgent since declining social mobility fractured universities into the Jack Wills set versus the rest: Don’t let your residence in Cambridge cause you to assume superiority over others less fortunate. And whether you take your tobacco postcoitally or just in the shop, he has at least one tip that survives any need for translation: Always offer visitors a cup of tea.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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