"more worldly and sophisticated than Bowra's or Urquhart's"

The name Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra (April 8, 1898 – July 4, 1971) was synonymous with gossip at Oxford, where Bowra was a college tutor.

The Oxford academic was, however, so much more than just a tutor, or so he liked to believe, and he encouraged his students to live life like the ancient Greeks and poets. Such was his obsession with Greece that Bowra made moves to become a Grecian scholar, but was unsuccessful in his attempt. Poetry too saw little luck and Bowra had to content himself with  critiquing others’ rather than producing his own poetry.

Idealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period. British Museum
Public DomainIdealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period. British Museum - Credit: JW1805

Greece, poetry and sex was the collective trio which seemingly consumed Bowra’s attention throughout his lifetime, although success in each ultimately alluded him.

Born in China, Bowra studied and made his life in England, attending Cheltenham College and later New College, Oxford. He fought as an artillery officer in the third battle of Ypres, but returned to Oxford to continue his education.

In 1922, he was named a Fellow of Waldham and in 1938, became Warden of the College and during his career, penned 40 books.

Described by LMS as “worldly and sophisticated,” it certainly sums up Bowra’s life. He taught and influenced people such as Cyril Connolly, John Betjeman and John Sparrow, but was less than keen on T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden or Ezra Pound, to name but a few.

 Francis Fortescue Urquhart (1868 – 1934) was a dean at Balliol College and was also referred to as ‘Sligger’ Urquhart, due to his sleek appearance.

 A college tutor like Bowra, Urquhart was more interested in art than literature and was not the most inspiring teacher. His social skills however made him popular and, like Bowra, he enjoyed a bit of gossip in his rooms in the evenings, which were frequented by socialising students.