I shall always remember the first essay that I ever took to Professor [Charles] Oman, and the devastating criticism that it evoked. He had told me to write an estimate of Cicero. He waved me into an arm-chair, and told me to read it to him. "Marcus Tullium Cicero," I began, "was born at Arpinum on January 3rd, B.C. 106."
"No never," cried my tutor, "under any circumstances, begin an essay like that." And he started me off on half a dozen different tracks. What did Cicero stand for? Was he a genuine politician? Was he a trimmer? Did he do good for the state or evil? "Begin with an epigram, begin with a paradox, or begin with a demonstrably false premise and demolish it. But never, never, start off with such a dry and helpless statement as that 'Marcus Tullius Cicero was born at Arpinum on January 3rd, B.C. 106.'"
The whole of Oxford teaching is in that condemnation--ideas not facts, judgments not an index, life not death.