Lord Byron felt as "independent as a German prince" when he started at Cambridge. Portrait: (c) Newstead Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

"Oxford has made me insufferable" From Lord Byron to Sylvia Plath, writers recall their first days at uni

Sylvia Plath "could cry with happiness", while Jeremy Lewis found Dublin "quite dreadful"
August 22, 2018
Lord Byron arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge. He wrote to his half-sister Augusta:

“As might be supposed I like a College Life extremely, especially as I have escaped the Trammels or rather Fetters of my domestic Tyrant, Mrs Byron [his mother], who continued to plague me during my visit in July and September. I am now most pleasantly situated in Superexcellent Rooms, flanked on one side by my Tutor, and on the other by an old Fellow, both of whom are rather checks on my vivacity.

I am allowed 500 a year, a Servant and a Horse, so feel as independent as a German Prince who coins his own Cash, or a Cherokee Chief who coins no cash at all, but enjoys what is more precious, Liberty.”

Max Beerbohm arrived at Merton College, Oxford. He later observed:

“I was a modest, good-humoured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable.”

Sylvia Plath arrived at Smith College, Massachusetts. She wrote to her mother:

“WH Auden is to come to Smith next year and may teach English or possibly Creative Writing. So I hope to petition to get into one of his classes. (Imagine saying, ‘Oh yes, I studied writing under Auden!’)

Honestly, Mum, I could just cry with happiness. I love this place so, and there is so much to do creatively… The world is splitting open at my feet like a ripe, juicy watermelon. If only I can work, work, work to justify all of my opportunities.”

Jeremy Lewis arrived at Trinity College, Dublin: 

“I felt hungover, underslept and ruinously indigested: the long night [on the ferry], the Guinness and the pork pie were taking their toll; it was still raining; and for all its seedy elegance, Dublin seemed to exude a sour smell of stale stout and old socks.

I wandered into Trinity, and the graceful Georgian squares looked sombre and elegant in the chilly morning light, with here and there a broken window, and the odd unshaven figure groping its way in a dressing gown, towel over the arm and spongebag in hand, towards the College Baths, where enormous enamel tubs awaited it, like private swimming-pools, with a claw at each corner and vast brass taps belching steam and boiling water.

I bought a postcard of Front Square—the sky a cobalt blue, the grass a fluorescent lime—and sent home a gloomy message to the effect that Dublin seemed quite dreadful and that they should expect me home within the next day or two.”