University of Exeter Press

An American in Victorian Cambridge

Charles Astor Bristed's 'Five Years in an English University'

    • 460 Pages

    Charles Astor Bristed (1820-1874) was the favourite grandson of John Jacob Astor (the first American multi-millionaire, and the Astor of the Waldorf-Astoria). After gaining a degree at Yale, Bristed entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1840, graduating in 1845. An American in Victorian Cambridge is a richly detailed account of student life in the Cambridge of the 1840s. The rationale for the book, which is as appealing today as it was then, is that this is pre-eminently a book about an American student at an English university. The book belongs to a fascinating nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic publishing genre: travel accounts designed to describe British culture to Americans and vice-versa.

    In this new edition, some substantial additions have been made: the Foreword and Introduction both help to contextualise the work, and point to its significance as an important historical source and as a fascinating memoir of life in Victorian Cambridge; annotation helps to identify the individuals who appear in Bristed’s text; and an index allows full use to be made of the text for the first time.

    Bristed’s account provides under a new title an unusual and frequently very funny snapshot of Victorian Cambridge.... His intelligence and wit, and the peculiar sympathy of his character, make this an invaluable reprint of a unique and accessible account.

    Times Literary Supplement

    Christopher Stray has done a brilliant job of unburdening and illuminating Bristed’s text. (…) Drawing copiously on his own expert knowledge both of Classics and Cambridge, his introduction and notes give ample context for most of Bristed’s introverted obsessions and turn them into useful evidence for a better understanding of elite education in Victorian Britain.

    Times Higher Education

    With much patience and skill, Stray has performed a…resurrection upon Bristed’s forgotten literary classic, and he has further refreshed it with the addition of contemporary illustration by John Lewis Roget (son of Thesaurus Roget). Roget’s pen and ink renderings, such as this oft-repeated…reinforce the literary portraiture with a simplicity of line that anticipates later English illustrators E.H. Shepard and C.G. Harper.

    Carlyle Studies Annual

    Photograph of Charles Astor Bristed
    Foreword by Patrick Leary
    Introduction by Christopher Stray
    Original dedication
    Original preface

    1. First Impressions of Cambridge [1840]
    2. Some Preliminaries, Rather Egotistical but Very Necessary [1835-9]
    3. Introduction to College Life
    4. The Cantab Language
    5. An American Student's First Impressions at Cambridge and on Cambridge
    6. Freshman Temptations and Experiences
    7. The Boat Race [1841]
    8. A Trinity Supper Party [1840]
    9. The May Examination [1841]
    10. The First Long Vacation [1841]
    11. The Second Year [1841-2]
    12. Third Year [1842-3]
    13. Private Tuition
    14. Long Vacation Amusements [1843]
    15. A Second Edition of Third Year [1843-4]
    16. The Scholarship Examination [1844]
    17. The Reading Party [1844]
    18. Sawdust Pudding with Ballad Sauce [1844]
    19. On the Razor's Edge [1844-5]
    20. How I Came To Take a Degree [1845]
    21. The Polloi and the Civil Law Classes
    22. The Classical Tripos [1845]
    23. A visit to Eton. English Public Schools
    24. Being Extinguished [1845]
    25. Reading for a Trinity Fellowship [1845]
    26. The study of Theology at Cambridge
    27. Recent Changes at Cambridge
    28. The Cambridge System of Education in its Intellectual Results
    29. Physical and Social Habits of Cambridge Men. Their Amusements, &c.
    30. On the State of Morals and Religion in Cambridge
    31. The Puseyite Disputes in Cambridge, and the Cambridge Camden Society
    32. Inferiority of our Colleges and Universities in Scholarship
    33. Supposed Counterbalancing Advantages of American Colleges
    34. The Advantages of Classical Studies, Particularly in Reference to the Youth of our Country
    35. What Can and Ought We To Do for our Colleges?

    Charles Astor Bristed 1820-1874: An annotated bibliography



    Christopher Stray, Department of Classics, Swansea University, is the author of Classics Transformed: Universities and Societies in England 1830-1960 (OUP 1998); The Living Word: WHD Rouse and the Crisis of Classics in Edwardian England (BCP 1992); Gilbert Murray Reassessed: Hellenism, Theatre and International Politics (OUP 2007). He has been described by Professor Amy Richlin (UCLA) as ‘the God-Emperor of Victorian Classics’.

    Patrick Leary is a historian based in Evanston, Illinois who has published widely on Victorian authorship and is currently in the last stage of completing a book on Punch for the University of Toronto Press; he is founder and manager of VICTORIA, the listserv for Victorian Studies.