Sir Roger Newdigate's Prize for English Verse was founded at Oxford University in 1806, with a value of £300 --- a considerable sum at the time, although it wouldn't buy you very much these days.

Sir Roger was evidently a High Tory and a classicist by temperament, since the instructions for the prize include the following:-

"The length of the poem is not to exceed 300 lines. The metre is not restricted to heroic couplets, but dramatic forms of composition are not allowed."

Evidently the fifth baronet was concerned lest the rate of award should fall below one pound per line, or possibly he wished to spare the Oxford Professor of Poetry --- who sets the subject for the prize and judges the entries, quite often refusing to make an award at all --- should be forced to slog through pages and pages of, well, Lord Macaulay for instance,

Lars Porsena of Clusium,
By the nine Gods he swore,
That the great House of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more,

'oh god, how much more of this stuff is there?' one imagines the OPP asking himself, 'let's see . . .'

Then out spake brave Horatio,
The Captain of the Gate,
'To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.

'Right, right, right . . . good, if possibly a touch dramatic . . .'

At all events, various literary people won the Newdigate in the nineteenth century, including Matthew Arnold (mostly heroic couplets, doubtless) and Oscar Wilde (probably not, one might surmise) --- so that it is in fact regarded fairly highly in terms of prestige.

The prize doesn't appear to have been awarded to anyone since 1996. (We do not, perhaps, need to spend too much time in wondering what the reason for this might be.)

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I am indebted for some of this information to one of Oxford University's poetry websites, at

www.gnelson.demon.co.uk/oxpoetry/index/inewd.html

which, charmingly, points out among other things that "the event is so badly advertised that few undergraduates are aware that it exists . . ."

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