I became “the Incensed Professor” when I took it as the nom de guerre for a review site for perfumes and colognes. It seemed a good choice for this use as well. I am often incensed at the follies of the world, and when I went to Mass, I was literally incensed there as well. I therefore can use the term both negatively and positively.
It took me a long time to become properly incensed. After graduating from public school, I went to a junior college because of a difference of opinion with my parents. The problem for me is that a young man from town had gone north to college and came home preaching the Gospel According to St John Harvard. To an impressionable teenager, it sounded like the Ivy League constituted the Cities of God on earth. My parents were less thrilled; they felt, quite reasonably, that I was too young and naïf to be dropped into an Ivy League institution. Their solution was to insist I go locally for a year or two, before they sent me wherever I wanted I wanted to go. My solution to their solution was to sulk.
It turned out, of course, that they were right. By the time I finally got into one of the Ivy League colleges as a transfer student, I had begun to realize its high costs might seriously undermine what would be a long post-graduate course of study. I accepted the parental bribe (a new car) and went off to the family University. It was well that I did, for I fell very ill my first term, which was much easier to handle closer to home than the cold North.
At my University, I did an Honors study for a month in London. My English mentor took me to see Oxford. (You get an idea of Oxford when you are reminded that the “New College” of Our Lady there was founded there in 1379.) It was there I discovered that the City of God on Earth was not Cambridge, Massachusetts, but Oxford, England (or possibly Cambridge, England). I was therefore determined to go up to Oxford or “the Other Place,” which means either Oxford or Cambridge depending on whether one is viewing things from Cambridge or Oxford. The term is, however, not inaccurate. “Oxbridge” is a rather smaller set than the Ivy League, and in my book, infinitely more desirable.
After my Master’s at a large State University, I applied to read History at Oxford or Cambridge. I managed to get accepted, and it was the best thing that happened throughout my education. My College was not a socially prominent constituent of the University, but what it lacked in social clout, it made up for with a most congenial society. Instead of being relegated to the Americans’ Table at one of the older and grander Colleges, my best mates were English, Welsh, and Canadian. I also had most of my tutorials one-on-one. (It was the tutorial that made me opt for another Bachelor’s degree, which is expected to turn to an M.A. if one takes the expected Honours.) I read Modern History, that is, after the Fall of Rome. I was told that the advice to do another undergraduate degree was old-fashioned but good. It was. I “lost” three years in England, and it took one more to get back into Graduate School. It was still worth the time it took! When I actually got to teach Tudor History, I realized that pay was not the only reward the University offered. One can always spend money, but not to be bored at work is priceless.
My dissertation was, as most dissertations are, an arcane study of obscure aspects of Elizabethan England. It was not well chosen for a modern academic career, though for me the more important consideration was that it set up annual research trips to London to work in the historical archives there, including the British Library. I think the Prince of Wales dislikes the new BL, but I love it, if for no other reason that the old Manuscripts Saloon in the British Museum was not air-conditioned. No drinks in the old “saloon,” either. This meant that the new BL was a temperate paradise with original manuscripts. Heaven!
I never had a career in one of the Top Research Schools, but I doubt I would have enjoyed the rare distinction of being a conservative Professor in a liberal fish tank. In any case, I have always followed the excellent advice of that notorious women, the Dowager Empress Cixi of China, to “cultivate one’s person.” I am “invariably interested in so many things,” literature, early music, European and Asian history, Eastern art, Western art, and so forth. I am an “Anglophiliac,” since I love England dearly but am not sure she is still among the living. (Brexit may help revive her.) I am also an oenophile and a lover of food. As “the Incensed Professor.” I will inveigh against what I dislike and savor those things I cherish. Some of you I will bore (as I did some of my students), but as long as you don’t bore me, we shall get along splendidly.