For a week now, the students have been in Balliol, eating in its high-roofed Hall, studying in its rooms and libraries, and relaxing in the sunlit quads. They follow in illustrious footsteps: Balliol has been, at many points in history, the home to those who would later go on to become renowned in their fields for their works.
Matthew Arnold, one of the most-read poets of the 19th Century, wrote some time after his years at Balliol that in his days of studying,
Rigorous teachers seized my youth,
And purged its faith, and trimm’d its fire,
Show’d me the high, white star of Truth,
There bade me gaze, and there aspire.
This spirit of criticism, and of attempting to grasp truth through analysis, is seldom found in much of history’s poetry; it is far from unique, however, among the alumni of Balliol College.
In the present day, another of its erstwhile students is perhaps the world’s most famous living religious sceptic. Richard Dawkins attended Balliol College from 1959 to 1962, and has since become extremely widely read and influential, with his books on the interworking of faith and science dividing opinion worldwide.
In the field of politics, Balliol has provided more than its fair share of global leaders. These include the controversial Lord Curzon, viceroy of the British Raj in India, and HH Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain. In philosophy and theology, Balliol notables include John Wycliffe, the titan of the English Reformation, and Peter Geach, the 20th Century philosopher responsible for the metaethical Frege-Geach Problem.
It is, in short –and indeed the brief glimpse of Balliol’s output has been very short— a collection of brilliance of truly impressive proportions. We hope that the students in Balliol recognise in whose footsteps they are walking, and draw inspiration from this knowledge.