We are proud to call New College Oxford our home.

Duff Cooper

Duff Cooper read Modern History at New College between 1908 and 1911, and remained profoundly attached to his alma mater, which he saw as a beacon of learning and tolerance.

It is in tribute to his love of the college that the Warden has always been one of the judges of the Duff Cooper Prize. The incumbent Warden, Miles Young, is, with the college Fellows, responsible for the Duff Cooper Memorial Fund.

Duff was far happier at Oxford than he had been at Eton, where by his own admission, he stood out only in the Debating Society. At New College, under the benign leadership of Warden Spooner, Duff blossomed in an atmosphere where ‘love of literature was no longer an eccentricity and talent for oratory was an asset’. As he writes in his memoir, Old Men Forget, he shone ‘at dinner parties where we believed our conversation to be brilliant’.

He was especially fond of French poetry, and in 1910 was recorded as having given a paper to the College Essay Society entitled ‘The Literary Life of Arthur Rimbaud’.

He made his first political speech in the College’s XX Club and spoke frequently thereafter, on motions as varied as ‘Mr Balfour is unfit to lead the Conservative Party’ (against), to ‘Mr Asquith has lowered the standards of life’ (for).

His tutor was the celebrated historian H A L Fisher, who he describes as making ‘such mincemeat of my arguments’ that Duff thought it was hardly worth persevering – until he realised that it was not his opinions that Fisher was tearing to pieces, but the flaws in his argument. On another occasion, he noticed a volume of French verse on his tutor’s table. ‘I soon found out that he knew very much more about the French poets of the decadence than I did and that he had actually been in company with Verlaine.’

His relations with the College deteriorated towards the end of his stay. Emulating his hard living hero Charles James Fox, Duff tended to party to excess, with all the wild and exuberant energy he had failed to channel into sport at Eton. The final straw came when he was involved in starting a bonfire in the Front Quadrangle of New College. For this he was banned from the College and had to spend the rest of his time at Oxford in digs. Duff did study very hard in his final year: he hoped for a First, but took a Second.

New College today excels academically, both generally and in the subjects loved by Duff, consistently being ranked as one of the top performing Colleges in the University. It is also proud of its exceptional collection of rare books, dating back to the Middle Ages. The tolerance which Duff noted is still an essential feature of the College’s culture. There could be no more appropriate home for the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize.