Between the Lines: January-February 2006

January 31, 2006

With the naming of its newest Rhodes Scholars, Duke now has forty on that lofty list. Duke's first Rhodes wasn't precisely Duke's first Rhodes. He was Charles R. Bagley, a 1914 graduate of Trinity College, the university's predecessor. When he received the scholarship, in 1917, Bagley was a Trinity instructor in French.

According to the Trinity Alumni Register, "a more deserving appointment to this coveted place [Oxford] was probably never made." At Trinity, Bagley, who worked in order to pay his tuition, edited the yearbook, took part in athletics and debate, and became "a man of great popularity."

Bagley was diverted from the path to Oxford, right into World War I; he served as a captain in the Army. In November 1918, on the verge of the armistice, he provided an update for the Register, from an unspecified place in Europe. "I walked up and down the line, looked over the sleeping men, who were cold and exhausted, and wondered how many would be there in the morning," he wrote. He reported on dodging machine-gun rounds. "Now we all lay there, up to our necks in freezing water, pushing our noses deeper into the dirt each time shell fragments fell on us or the machine-gun bullets threw mud into our faces."

By the fall of 1922, he was able to reflect back not so much on the ways of the warrior as on the advantages of being an Oxonian. Writing in the Trinity Chronicle, he said, "A few years at Oxford, of course, does not make a man; but the three years of study and travel offered by the Scholarships does afford opportunities for a good man to broaden his outlook on life and to develop himself in many ways."

Though a product of older institutions and past battlefields, Bagley spoke to current concerns. "No single country--not even our own--has a monopoly on all the best things in education or in life," he wrote. "It is rather bold to assume that we are so self-sufficient and so superior that we cannot learn anything helpful from other countries."