"Oxford is always a strangely fascinating city. Why is it so much further removed from present-day life than its rival university town-Cambridge? It is needless to enter upon an analysis of the fact, but so it is. Oxford belongs to the middle ages. Its spirit is both academic and ecclesiastic. The university is Oxford. The city lives for the university. All the deliciously beautiful architecture of the quaint old city is, in one way or another, connected with the university. All in all, there are twenty-five colleges affiliated with the university; and besides these, all of which have their own middle-age Gothic buildings, with halls, chapels, and libraries, there are university libraries, museums, presses, and schools, or university building where the university examinations are held.
These massive old buildings, for the most part of Gothic architecture or at least of the general type of architecture that goes under the general term, line the High street on both sides. In each instance, I believe, the college quadrangle is entered by an archway. Most of these archways are high and wide and the stonework is most elaborately carved. Facing the uniform quadrangle are the chapel, the hall, the library, and the students' rooms. There is usually a back quadrangle or garden. Some of these are very large and are very beautifully kept. The buildings themselves are of great size and of the most substantial and enduring construction. So solid, and eternal, and venerable do they look that one might fancy that they were born with the earth.
The streets are irregular and narrow, and the contrasts between the stately collegiate buildings and the quaint old dwellings give the city a most picturesque air and appearance.
There are in the several colleges about three thousand men. Of these, it is estimated twenty-five hundred are the sons of the aristocracy and country gentlemen who are not fitting themselves to earn a living, but only to guide and adorn society. Most of these men come up to university, not to give much time to academic work, but to receive that air of refinement and that touch of grace which tradition says one only gets at Oxford or Cambridge. Their academic work has been done already at one of the great public schools or under private tutors. Then the boating, the foot-ball, the cricket, the tennis, the hunting, the intercourse with "fellows," "scholars," lecturers, and professors, the acquaintances of the young aristocracy, and the nameless air of academic refinement are the necessary and finishing requisites of an English gentleman. To be that is the ambition and aim of every well-born and well-bred English youth."
Speaking of the choir of Magdalen College Mr. Collier says: "The two most famous-and deservedly famous-choirs in the world are the Bach choir at Leipsic and the choir of the Magdalen Chapel at Oxford. I had often heard the Bach choir and had never had an opportunity of hearing the Magdalen choir, or the "Maudlin" choir, as the name is always pronounced in England. I never heard in the Leipsic choir any such marvelously sweet and true voices as those that compose the Oxford choir. The choir is richly endowed, and so it may draw from all the best male voices of the kingdom. However, the "foundation" created a school in which the choir boys were to be educated entirely free of expense, and the boys are all the sons of "gentlemen." The school itself has, in late years, been thrown open to "commoners," but the choir has been kept most rigidly within the limits of the original endowment, and only the sons of "gentlemen" can become members of it. This secures the most polite and academic pronunciation, and in no instance is it possible to hear the least deviation from the most high-bred pronunciation of every word of the entire service.
There was singing by the choir this afternoon at 5 o'clock, twenty-four boys and twelve men, of course all in surplices. Besides the choir and clergy there were not more than a dozen persons present, who are only admitted by ticket, usually secured some days beforehand. The lovely, though dim and solemn, chapel is small, having seating room for not more than 200 people. The entire evening service of the Church of England was intoned and sung, and a more perfect and worshipful religious service it has never been my privilege to engage in. Two of the boys have voices famed all over England, and it so happened that both of these boys took a solo in the anthem. Never have I heard such devotional music, so heavenly, so inspiring, as at this service."