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In 1874, the Balliol school of Oxford University in England had in attendance a young student who by the standards of the time irrevocably tarnished the reputation of that most estimable of institutions. His name was William Money Hardinge, and he came to be known as the Balliol Bugger.

Buggery, in the parlance of the day, referred to nothing short of sodomy of the male-to-male variety. Homosexuality—a word that didn’t exist in 1874—being in no way socially acceptable in Victorian England, poor young William really had a hell of a time, which wasn’t helped by his preferences becoming very publicly known in that particularly hostile environment.

Hardinge was a student of poetry and literature who, when the opportunity arose, had no doubt been pleased to make the acquaintance of famed ‘aestheteOscar Wilde--but that’s not what did him in (the epithet ‘aesthete’ had a rather accusatory connotation of its own). His writing, however, may have been the primary cause of his growing reputation, for when the formal accusation came down from Balliol Master Benjamin Jowett—‘keeping and reciting immoral poetry’--it stated that Hardinge had composed and circulated poems of what those in the position to do so labeled ‘a homosexual nature’. Of course, Universities have always been full of everything, and one can usually rely on the administration either not knowing what’s going on, or not wanting to acknowledge it. Unfortunately for Hardinge, it wasn’t the Oxford administration that made the first move. Motivated by their concern for the college’s image, Hardinge’s peers ratted him out.

Things got a bit hotter when it was revealed by them that Hardinge had in his possession letters from one Walter Pater, who was considered a shoo-in for a University Proctorship. They were signed by him ‘yours lovingly,’ which apparently was evidence enough. Pater’s Proctorship was yanked away, and rather than face an inquiry, Hardinge quietly left Oxford for a time. The friendships between Pater and Jowett, and Hardinge and Pater, never recovered. Oddly, though, that between Hardinge and Jowett did.

Hardinge returned later that year to Oxford at Jowett’s invitation, having proven himself as a poet of some potential. He won the Newdigate Prize for poetry, was visited in London by Jowett, and had a place at the prestigious dinner at Balliol held in 1893. Ultimately, he turned to novel-writing, and died in a fairly quiet way, still known as, but likely never called, the Balliol Bugger.

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