Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator

Professor CHRISTOPHER RICKS, FBA

Professor at Boston University

Si quis roget in quo Musarum campo cives nostri peregrinis longissime excellant, hoc sane respondeamus omnes, summum Britanniae decus esse amplissimam illam librorum praestantissimorum copiam quam per tot saecula tot florentissimi scriptores posteris tradiderunt. sed quis nostrum non aliquando hoc secum confessus est, Inopem me copia fecit? scilicet litterarum nostrarum tanta iam moles est ut lectores ab interpretibus auxilium atque opem implorent. sed cum critico opus sit qui sapere et fari possit quae sentiat, tum haud raro accidere cernimus ut alii ea nimis ignave iterent quae iam antea sunt enuntiata, alii subtilitatis hodiernae praeter modum studiosi ita obscuris sermonis ambagibus involvantur ut ipsi mehercle interprete indigere videantur. quo magis hunc salutamus, qui cum sit singulari acumine, (nam et in quaestionibus enodandis quibus ceteri haeserunt, et in offensionibus apud auctores suos ibi dispiciendis ubi ceteri nihil animadverterunt, nemo omnino est qui huius perspicacitatem possit aequare), tum in scribendo creber est rerum frequentia, ita tamen ut nihil putidum, nihil obscurum, nihil sit quo non delectetur auditor. poetarum editor est indefessus, qui Aluredi illius memoriam optime defenderit; et rarius lectitatis scriptoribus subvenit (Georgio Cancro, puta, vel ipsi Eduardo, Comiti de Clarendon) et in maximis maximum quidque excerptum inlustrat, qui ipsius Iohannis Milton genus scribendi grande, quo nihil est grandius, digne agnoverit exposueritque. non cum timido quodam umbratilique doctore rem habemus, nam in controversiis, ne dicam concertationibus, satis est exercitatus; nec [Greek - transliteration: dusopiai] quam dicunt adeo impedito, qui de Iohanne poeta et verecundia, deque Thomae animo Iudaeis infesto libros emisit, doctos, Iuppiter, et laboriosos.

Praesento criticorum candidissimum, doctrina admirabilem, iudicio singularem, acumine unicum, qui nobis ad litteras nostras aditum patefacit, Christophorum Ricks, Academiae Britannicae Sodalem, Collegiorum de Balliolo et Vigornensis Socium honoris causa creatum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.

Admission by the Chancellor

Horum temporum Aristarche, poetarum lector subtilissime, editor accuratissime, aestimator aequissime, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.

Paraphrase

If we were to be asked in which of the arts the British have most distinguished themselves, no doubt the answer would be unanimous. Our greatest glory is the vast literature in the English language, produced over so many centuries. Yet which of us has not occasionally felt daunted by its sheer bulk? English literature is now so extensive that we feel the need for guidance in our reading. What we need, of course, is a critic who can (in the phrase of Horace) both think aright and express his thoughts; but all too often what we find is that some critics tamely repeat received opinions, while others, carried away by their desire for the clever and the fashionable, lose themselves in verbiage so opaque that the reader needs an interpreter to understand his guide. All the more heartily do we salute Professor Ricks, who is indeed exceedingly acute, as we see both in his power to resolve problems that baffle other scholars, and in his ability to discern difficulties where others have seen none, but whose work, while densely packed with thought, is never pretentious, never obscure, and always a pleasure to read. He is indefatigable as an editor: he has brought the text of Tennyson up to date. He comes to the rescue of writers who are less read, such as George Crabbe and the great Earl of Clarendon. In the greatest he brings out what is most great—he is the author of an excellent book on the grand style of Milton, than which nothing can be grander. His is no timid or cloistered scholarship; he is no stranger to controversy, and even to confrontation. Nor is he unduly bashful, having written at length on Keats and embarrassment, and on Eliot and anti-semitism.

I present a critic of great candour, a man admirable for learning, unsurpassed in judgment, and unmatched in acuteness, who opens up paths for us into our own literature, Christopher Ricks, FBA, Honorary Fellow of Balliol College and of Worcester College, for admission to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Admission by the Chancellor

You are a strong candidate to be esteemed the arch-critic of our age. You read the poets with insight, edit them with accuracy, and expound them with sympathy. Acting on my own authority and that of the whole University, I admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

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