I was born and brought up in Cambridge until I was sixteen… and unlike Richard Monckton Milnes who wrote the sonnet below, I was not at university there, and my life did not really connect with the university at all, we were town folk not gown. We used to revisit, and I missed the small city tremendously, but as so often happens the place I remembered as Cambridge began to disappear; old buildings pulled down or changed, whole areas vanished under new housing, commercial and industrial buildings, new road systems and traffic management schemes.
Now when I visit, on the rare occasions I do, there are only faint echoes of memory. When I sit here now, thinking of Cambridge, there are different Cambridges; there is my own Cambridge of my childhood, there is the famous Cambridge, there is the Cambridge now I revisit, almost like a tourist, and then there is the Cambridge of the stories my dad used to tell me.
Here are thoughts from someone who knew he city as a very small county town surrounding the magnificent buildings of the University, Richard Monckton Milnes, who was born in 1809 and was a student at the university in 1827
On Revisiting Cambridge
I have a debt of my heart’s own to thee,
School of my soul, old lime and cloister shade,
Which I, strange creditor, should grieve to see
Fully acquitted and exactly paid.
The first ripe taste of manhood’s best delights,
Knowledge imbibed, while mind and heart agree,
In sweet belated talk on winter nights,
With friends whom growing time keeps dear to me,
Such things I owe thee, and not only these:
I owe thee the far beaconing memories
Of the young dead, who, having crossed the tide
Of life where it was narrow, deep, and clear,
Now cast their brightness from the further side
On the dark-flowing hours I breast in fear.