Balliol, Trinity Term 1914

April 20 2011

Alfred Balmforth

Balliol has placed some of its archives on Flickr.

This is the diary of an undergraduate, a Classical Exhibitioner from Manchester Grammar School, in his third year of reading Greats in the summer term of 1914. (Use full-screen, not enlarged, mode.)

His name is Alfred Balmforth, born February 2 1892 and the son of WA Balmforth, editor of the Manchester Evening News. He came up to Balliol as a Classical Exhibitioner in 1911.

It was the last term of peace, but not Balmforth’s last, since Greats (Literae Humaniores, classics and philosophy) was and is a four-year course. The diary covers the whole term and runs from Friday April 24 to Monday June 22 1914. The following Sunday a nineteen year-old Bosnian Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

At the beginning of the diary Balmforth sees CG Stone (1886-1976), Robert Gibson (died 1915) and Toynbee “about work for term”. Toynbee tells us in Experiences that Gibson was a junior fellow with him, while AD Lindsay (1879-1952) was the senior Greats don. He does not mention Stone. Balmforth does not mention Lindsay.

According to the Balliol archive, Balmforth’s tutors were Cyril Bailey (1871-1957), AW Pickard-Cambridge (1873-1952) and Arnold Toynbee. But Balmforth never mentions Bailey (unless I have missed a reference). He mentions “Picker” on a couple of occasions, but not as a teacher, and Toynbee often. Bailey had visited Winchester while Toynbee was still there and persuaded him to apply to Balliol, rather than New College, where most Wykehamists were expected to go.

The Master from 1907 to ’16 was James Leigh Strachan-Davidson (1843-1916). Lindsay was the next Master but one after him. AL Smith (1850-1924), about whom Toynbee writes in Experiences, held the office in between.

AD Lindsay had encouraged Toynbee to become a don and became his close friend, though the friendship ended when Toynbee, to Lindsay’s displeasure, resigned from his fellowship in December 1915. He had left in April that year to do war work in London.

Lindsay was socially progressive and, in McNeill’s words, “intent on disrupting the alliance of aristocracy and talent that Jowett had paintakingly created at Balliol”. His “version of Bergsonian evolutionary thinking helped to wean Toynbee away from his inherited Anglican faith”.


Balmforth’s reading: Mommsen, Boswell, Rosetti (Dante Gabriel), Descartes, Palgrave (presumably Francis), James Stephens, Zimmern, Plutarch, Xenophon, Aristotle, Hesiod, Sterne, How and Wells’ Commentary on Herodotus, Swift, Swinburne, Appian, John Morley, Aucassin and Nicolette, Richard de Bury, Sir Philip Sidney. You don’t have the impression that it weighs heavily on him or that he’s a swot.

Essays for Toynbee: Athenian constitutional history from Solon to 462, Spartan history to 550, Persia to 479, the Athenian Empire, Pericles’s policy from 443, the Boeotian constitution.

Lectures outside Balliol: inter alia John Cook Wilson (1849-1915), HH Joachim (1868-1938), Hastings Rashdall (1858-1924).

Sports: tennis and golf. He isn’t a hearty. Cricket as spectator. Punting. Eights Week: “Oxford full of sisters & cousins & aunts.”

Collections, discussions about life. Balmforth has an eye for landscape and flowers (“cowslips in many of the fields & ladysmock all along the hedges”), and an interest in music, though his taste is conservative (no time for Scriabin). He eats at the Cadena Café occasionally. Goes to a cinema. “Toynbee said my Greek History essays had been first class,” he tells us at the end. It isn’t clear what he wants to do after coming down. Perhaps the Bar. There isn’t much about his inner life – and nothing at all about romance, sex or drink – but the more we parse a text such as this, the more it lives and reveals its secrets. Several references to Indians (discrimination, not on the part of Balmforth sv May 4). The only hints of war are some OTC parades.

On the first page he introduces us to two of his closest friends, whom he will see often during the term. The Balliol archive identifies them as “Humphrey Marmaduke Chaplin, 1892-1915 (Balliol 1911)” and “Gordon Morley Hewart, 1893-1915 (Balliol 1912)”. And to Robert Gibson. On the blank left-hand page opposite, Balmforth has written:

“H.M. Chaplin
Lieut. 3rd (attached 2nd) Bn [ie Batallion] Cheshire Regt.
Killed in action in action in Flanders May 1915

Gordon M. Hewart
2nd Lieut. 6th Bn Lincolnshire Regt.
Killed in action at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, August 1915.

Robert Gibson
Capt 3rd (attached 2nd) Bn King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Killed in action in action in Flanders March 1915.”

He makes a similar note later on against a reference to an undergraduate called Rawsthorne.


Toynbee had read Greats at Balliol from 1907 to ’11. His scholarship was extended for a fifth year, to be spent abroad, as a result of his winning the Jenkins Prize. He chose to walk some 3,000 miles in Italy and Greece (mainly Greece). He returned as a junior don teaching Greek and Roman history in October 1912, as Balmforth was entering his second year. He was less than three years older than his pupil.

Letter of 1912, probably September 25, to his friend Robert Shelby Darbishire (1886-1949), whom he had met as an undergraduate, quoted in McNeill:

I am impatient to get started at Balliol and find out what the job really feels like. You were disillusioned about the dull men – cannot they be poked up? I will try while I am still enthusiastic, and not be cynical if I fail. … I suspect, though, that discharging large pouches of one’s mind for duty, which one has been so far rather painfully bottling up, is demoralising.

November 6:

I am rapidly becoming at home in the other camp, of those who live for ever and ever and whose life changeth not, instead of those who come and pass. Sometimes it comes into my head that I may be doing this identical job when I am 59. The don crew are very friendly, and there are fewer fossils embedded among them than I had expected. But why need they fare so sumptuously? … I shall get myself made junior bursar, and feed them on bread and water. I want to smash it and melt the College plate withal. The hole (sic) [my sic] business is piggish. … That is why I run.

Apparently November 6:

My job in teaching history is to make people know a different life and civilisation from ours, from the bottom and with different openings for good. … If I can get my men inside the Greeks, mentally (though that is Sandie’s [Lindsay’s] job), physically and morally – with the imagination of limestone and pines and blueness thrown in – I shall have done a good work.

But only three of his fifteen pupils seemed to have any real enthusiasm.

I expound too much. I pour out stuff, trying to kindle their minds and put a living picture into them. One ought to take up what they have actually written and worry about that. Overheard in the quad: “What do you think of Toynbee?” “Oh, I think he is good.” “There is one thing. He talks to you so much himself, that you don’t have to do any talking.” So I must change my tactics. But it is good work teaching. …  I don’t think I should become dried up and withered here. Meanwhile I shall get time enough to go on assimilating history, which is the driving force inside me now, as it has been for some years – nor do I see any signs of its abating. I want knowledge because I want it.

His published correspondence (1937-74) with Columba Cary-Elwes is prefaced by a few very intimate letters to Darbishire.

Darbishire was half-American and returned to Kentucky in 1910, though he was with Toynbee for at least part of his subsequent Greek odyssey. He became a teacher. It is clear that there are more letters to Darbishire in the Bodleian. What we have in the Columba book makes one wish that they could be published.

June 13 1913:

When I got out of bed on Tuesday morning, I suddenly looked ahead and saw I could not live in College for ever like Sligger […]. So I determined I would become a thorough master of this job, get made junior dean, become a trained teacher, and get a grip of history, and then do work like my Father’s or something where human life and sorrow comes in. I wrote to Zimmern and told him he must help me get a footing in some such work within the next half-dozen years […].

“Something where human life and sorrow comes in.”

Toynbee’s father, Harry Valpy Toynbee (1861-1941), had been a social worker in the Charity Organisation Society from 1881 to 1908, before entering a mental hospital (he never returned to normal life).

Lindsay wrote to Toynbee during the spring examination period of either 1913 or ’14: “I don’t yet know what is going to happen to all our papers in Greats, but you ought to know that their history shows an immense improvement this year, both Greek and Roman, and considering what a middling lot they are, you are to be congratulated.” Quoted in McNeill.


Toynbee’s uncle and namesake, Harry’s brother, the economic historian and social worker Arnold Toynbee (1852-83), had studied political economy at Balliol from 1875 and after his graduation in 1878 became a tutor there in charge of candidates for the Indian Civil Service. He was made Bursar in 1881 and died aged thirty. He was a friend of Benjamin Jowett, the Master from 1870 to ’93. His Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England: Public Addresses, Notes and Other Fragments, together with a Short Memoir by B. Jowett were published posthumously in 1884 and very widely read. Until at least 1934, when the first volume of A Study of History appeared, Arnold Toynbee meant him, not Arnold Joseph Toynbee.

Arnold Joseph Toynbee secured his first exemption from military service in October 1914 on the doubtful grounds of the dysentery that he had contracted more than two years earlier in Greece. Subsequent exemptions were on the grounds of his war work in London.

He left Balliol after Hilary Term 1915 to do that work, but retained his fellowship and its stipend until he resigned in December of that year (or until shortly afterwards). So his early Balliol years, to give them their widest bracket, were 1907-15. Later (in what year?) the college elected him to an honorary fellowship, which he held for life.

Toynbee left conventional academic life twice, the second time not voluntarily, when he was forced out of the Koraes chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine Language, Literature and History at King’s College, University of London in 1924 for having excessively pro-Turkish political views. His destination wasn’t charity work, but the British (from 1926 Royal) Institute of International Affairs, a half-way house between academia and public life.

He returned to Balliol during the Second World War. From the outbreak of war to June 1943 he was the head of the nearly 200-strong Foreign Research and Press Service, set up at his old college. The group – a redeployment of Chatham House – was required to provide accurate information on foreign affairs to any branch of the government on demand. He had done similar work during part of the previous war. In 1943 he returned to London to head a new Foreign Office Research Department which merged personnel from the Foreign Research and Press Service and the Foreign Office.


Balliol changed in Michaelmas Term 1914. Some of the older Fellows and a reduced student body carried on part of the academic life of the college. But Balliol’s premises, like those of most Oxford colleges, were largely given over to war work. Balliol hosted thousands of British and Commonwealth officer cadets on short training courses who were not members of Balliol or of the university.

The general war of 1914 overtook me expounding Thucydides to Balliol undergraduates reading for Literae Humaniores, and […] suddenly my understanding was illuminated. The experience that we were having in our world now had been experienced by Thucydides in his world already. I was re-reading him now with a new perception – perceiving meanings in his words, and feelings behind his phrases, to which I had been insensible until I, in my turn, had run into that historical crisis that had inspired him to write his work. Thucydides, it now appeared, had been over this ground before. He and his generation had been ahead of me and mine in the stage of historical experience that we had respectively reached; in fact, his present had been my future. But this made nonsense of the chronological notation which registered my world as “modern” and Thucydides’ world as “ancient.” Whatever chronology might say, Thucydides’ world and my world had now proved to be philosophically contemporary. And, if this were the true relation between the Graeco-Roman and the Western civilizations, might not the relation between all the civilizations known to us turn out to be the same?

Crawley’s translation (1874):

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it. This belief was not without its grounds. The preparations of both the combatants were in every department in the last state of perfection; and he could see the rest of the Hellenic race taking sides in the quarrel; those who delayed doing so at once having it in contemplation. Indeed this was the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Hellenes, but of a large part of the barbarian world – I had almost said of mankind. For though the events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately preceded the war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable leads me to trust, all point to the conclusion that there was nothing on a great scale, either in war or in other matters.”


Balmforth got a First in Classical Moderations, the first main exam, in 1913 and a Second in Lit Hum finals in 1915.

In July 1915 he joined the 8th Manchester Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant.

His 1914 summer diary is followed by a section, in the same notebook, called A week of the Army, Jan. 8th to Jan 15th 1916, No 7 Camp, Codford St Mary, Salisbury Plain. (What did he do between July 1915 and January 1916?) We get more than a week. It resumes on January 30 and continues until September 16.

Parades, inspections, route marches, reconnaissances. Codford was a training and transfer camp for tens of thousands of troops waiting to move to France, including many ANZAC troops. In 1916 it also became a depot for men who had been evacuated from the front line and were not fit to return.

In February-March he spends five weeks at the Staff College at Camberley. On April 9 he is relocated from Codford to Witley. He goes home to Manchester for Easter. He is still at Witley when the diary ends. At the many references to bad weather – “Tuesday, March 21. A day of almost continuous rain […]” – our minds shift to Flanders.

But on Saturday July 1, the catastrophic first day of the Battle of the Somme, we get:

“Work on the Common in the morning – King still expected. Caught 2.30 from Godalming to Walton to stay with the Cowells. Tennis in the afternoon at Dr. Griffiths and a game of snooker in the evening at the Sangers’.”

On Sunday July 2:

“More tennis and pleasant lounging in the Garden. Returned to Camp at night.”

There is nothing afterwards to indicate what is happening.

In October 1916 he was sent to the front, attached to the 6th King’s Liverpool Regiment at Ypres. In April 1917 he became an Intelligence Officer and was made Captain. On July 31 1917 Alfred Balmforth was killed at St Julien, Ypres, “Wipers” to the British Tommy, aged twenty-five.


The “Sligger” whom Toynbee mentions as the typically college-bound academic in the passage I have quoted was the still-youthful Francis Fortescue Urquhart (1868-1934), the first Catholic fellow in Oxford since the Reformation. Until 1854, it had been necessary to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion in order to take a degree. After this bar was removed, Rome distrusted the Oxford Movement atmosphere sufficiently to issue a decree in 1867 forbidding Catholics to attend the university. This was not relaxed until 1895. Some Catholics came to Oxford despite the ban, including Urquhart. He remained at his school, Stonyhurst, to take an external London degree in Classics, and came up to Balliol as an exhibitioner for a second BA in modern history in 1890.

He lived in Balliol thereafter, holding office as junior dean (1896-1907), domestic bursar (1907-19) and dean (1918-34). Balliol online archive: “A conscientious but uninspiring tutor, his interests were more in art and architecture than literature or history, and he made no contributions of his own to historical scholarship. He took little part in university affairs except the development of the Oxford Catholic chaplaincy – he was instrumental in the appointment of his friend R. A. Knox as chaplain in 1926. Nevertheless, he became one of the best-known and most warmly remembered dons of his time. His main role, recalled L. E. Jones, ‘was social, not pedagogic … he appeared to have endless leisure for loitering in the Quad by day and gossiping in his rooms by night’.”

“The nickname Sligger, by which he was generally known after about 1892, was derived from ‘sleek one’ through ‘slicker’.” Over 700 photographs taken by (and occasionally of) Sligger are on Flickr. They have been placed there without any background or explanations; and why FF Urquhart Album 7? Many are obviously from the war years, but few are dated. A small selection is also on the Balliol Archives website. Some are very evocative. You want to know each of the subjects.

Peace and War by Sligger: not Balliol, but Merton from Christ Church Meadow; the Balliol archive at Flickr implies, but doesn’t state, a date of Michaelmas Term, 1914; Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart, Album 7; photograph © Balliol College, Oxford; used with permission

The revelation of Thucydides

A private joke

The stuffy closet

An Oxford Elegy

William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989 (first four extracts)

Christian B Peper, editor, An Historian’s Conscience, The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, with a Foreword by Lawrence L Toynbee, OUP, by arrangement with Beacon Press, Boston, 1986, posthumous

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

4 Responses to “Balliol, Trinity Term 1914”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    “His intellectual mentors were the Dean of Balliol ‘Sligger’ Urquhart who organised reading parties on the continent, and the Dean of Wadham, Maurice Bowra. […] In January 1923 he went with Urquhart and other collegers to Italy. In March he undertook his annual visit to Spain and in September went on the annual trip with the college group to Urquhart’s chalet in French Alps.” Wikipedia on Cyril Connolly. I believe that Waugh mentions Urquhart somewhere.

    Many of Sligger’s Continental photographs are on the Flickr site.

  2. […] October 19 2011 Olaf Stapledon was older than Toynbee, but overlapped with him at Balliol (post on Balliol), where he read Modern History. A letter from Toynbee to Robert Darbishire of March 9 1913, […]

  3. […] wrote about Urquhart in a post called Balliol, Trinity Term 1914. There are now over 2,000 photos by or of him in the Balliol archive at Flickr (Urquhart albums 1, […]

  4. […] Balliol, Trinity Term, 1914 […]

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