Tired of Knocking at Preferment's Door


The Scholar Gypsy was a student of "pregnant and very ready parts" who, his humble birth preventing advancement at Oxford, joined the company of Gypsies, who taught him their lore and livelihood.

The story is first told in the Vanity of Dogmatizing by Joseph Glanvill (1661), who alludes to an unnamed colleague from whom he heard the events, which took place "very lately". The student is therefore unlikely to have been born much before 1635. Glanvill saw in the Gypsies' reputed ability to influence other peoples' thoughts, by the power of suggestion or "Imagination", a physical explanation for the ability of Angels to steer humans aright or astray.

The story was made famous in The Scholar Gypsy by Matthew Arnold (1853), who was more interested in the romance of a disaffected Oxford student, which recalled to him his own days at the University, when he and his friends spent much time roaming the "Cumner range". This includes Boar's Hill, where Arnold composed "Thyrsis"; the city has now designated a "Matthew Arnold field" where the poet is supposed to have been inspired. (Adjacent is land donated for conservation by Sir Arthur Evans, discoverer of Knossos. There is also a pleasant shelter decorated in the faux-Minoan-art-deco style which Evans invented for the restoration of the Cretan palace complex.)

Arnold's own footnote to the poem, which purports to quote Glanvill, omits much from the original account, which is worth reading in full.