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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

On not being too professional

I used to think that I was the first person in my paternal line (which is the only part of my ancestry I know much about) to go to university. It was a blow to my inverted snobbery when I discovered that it was not true. In fact my great times five grandfather John graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1743. His father, described in the entry in Alumni Dublinense as generosus does not appear to have had that privilege but clearly felt that his eldest son's well born status could be embellished with a little learning. In fact he sent at least two sons to Trinity. Edward, the brother of my x5 grandfather, was also an undergraduate and while there appears to have been a drinking buddy and intimate of his second cousin Oliver Goldsmith. A number of rather charming letters from Goldsmith to Edward Mills survive, mostly pleas for money or patronage. Going to Trinity was not needed by the brothers Mills for professional advancement or consolidation. They both inherited estates and neither were destined to be impoverished country curates. Edward, it is true, entered the Middle Temple in 1756 but he does not appear to have completed his legal education. In fact in a rather amusing letter to his cousin, Goldsmith gently chides him for his apparent lack of ambition:
I have often, he says, let my fancy loose when you were the subject, and have imagined you gracing the bench, or thundering at the bar; while I have taken no small pride to myself, and whispered all that I could come near, that this was my cousin. Instead of this, it seems you are contented to be merely an happy man; to be esteemed only by your acquaintance to cultivate your paternal acres to take unmolested a nap under one of your own hawthorns, or in Mrs. Mills' bed-chamber, which, even a poet must confess, is rather the most [more] comfortable place of the two.
When one sees the pathological ruthlessness with which academics pursue professional advantage - for instance the Orlando Figes revelations - it's tempting to envy those born in a less driven age.

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