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Cambridge University, which Byron attended between 1805 and 1807, was a training-ground for Anglican priests, and as might be expected, a hotbed of cant, obfuscation and hypocrisy. Little learning and still less research occurred there. There was, for example, a Chair of Physics, but no lectures in that subject had been given by the Professor of Physics since the 1730s. Byron went to Trinity College, one of the two largest and most prestigious (he had a room in Neville's Court). As a nobleman, he was not asked to go to lectures, or to submit to the indignity of a public examination. He didn't even have to undergo the viva which his friends had to attend. A quiet, terminal chat with his tutor was all that was needed to assure him of his degree. But he did a huge amount of unsystematic reading.


Then, as now, freshmen to Cambridge were loaded with advice about how to behave and what to avoid in both university and town. Byron ignored it all. Here are two passages from Hints to Fresh-men at the University of Cambridge (1807):

Suspect danger from WOMEN; those women, I mean, who haunt the lanes, and ends, and corners of the town, who are Hebes at night, and Hecates in the morning. But for them, the once healthful HORATIO would not now be secluded from his friends, Stung with disease, and stupefied with spleen. (- Beattie)

If you engage, at any terms, in games of chance, stake no more money than you can lose without inconvenience. Should you be a winner, make use of all your prudence; consider your gains, not as muneræ fortunæ, sed munere (- Senec.) I strongly advise you to OPPOSE IDLENESS. It is a superfluity to add, DO NOT ADDICT YOURSELF TO PLAY.

Byron's attitude to this can be seen from the following letter to his solicitor, John Hanson:

... this place is the Devil, or at least his principal residence, they call it the University, but any other appellation would have suited it much better, for Study is the last pursuit of the Society; the Master eats, drinks and Sleeps, the Fellows drink, dispute and pun, the employments of the under Graduates you will probably conjecture without my description ... (November 23rd 1805; BLJ I 81)

He was £1,000 in debt by the end of his first term. His dissipation at Cambridge, London, and of course Newmarket, laid the foundations - or rather dug the pit - of the indebtedness which plagued his life until the sale of Newstead Abbey in 1818.


Forbidden by college regulations to keep a dog at Trinity, Byron kept a bear. He wrote to his Southwell friend Elizabeth Pigot on October 26th 1807:

I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame Bear, when I bought him here, they asked me what I meant to do with him, and my reply was "he should sit for a fellowship." ...This answer delighted them not, we have eternal parties here, and this evening a large assortment of Jockies, Gamblers, Boxers, Authors, parsons, and poets, sup with me. - A precious Mixture, and they go well together ... (BLJ I 135-6)

He was unscrupulous about returning home to Nottinghamshire if business, poetry, or boredom called him there. While ostensibly at Cambridge he published three of his four juvenile volumes at Newark: Fugitive Pieces in November 1806, Poems on Various Occasions in January 1807, and Hours of Idleness in June of the same year. Some of them reflect satirically on university life.

 Byron met some famous academics while at Cambridge, particularly Richard Porson, the professor of Greek, famous for his skill in editing Aeschylus, his drunkenness, and his foul language; also the Trinity tutor Thomas Jones, who was responsible for making William Paley's Natural Theology a compulsory part of the curriculum, and who was a liberal influence on Byron's thought. But the most important positive thing that happened to him were the friendships he forged with J.C.Hobhouse, Douglas Kinnaird, William Bankes, Scrope Davies, and C.S.Matthews - the last of whom drowned tragically in the Cam four years after Byron went down.
One of the most famous portraits of Byron - the statue by Bertel Thorwalsden - is now in the Wren Library at Trinity.