This is an actual photograph of a man born in 1755.

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Martin Routh was born in 1755 and died in 1854. He was president of Magdalen College in Oxford from the year 1791 till his death (for 63 years). He is a significant symbol of the leap between the age of photography and the 18th century. His picture is courtesy of Mark Blandford Baker a photographer and Home Bursar of Magdalen.

The horsehair wig on Routh’s head is a feature most striking in the photograph. Whether there are other pictures of an everyday wig recorded on another photograph during those days, is hard to tell but the last Archbishop to ever wear one was Archbishop Howley who died in 1848. Routh’s wig has been well preserved at Magdalen.

His wits were well known and he kept them until his last days. He was meticulous in dress and attending chapel and GV Cox wrote a great description of him in the chapel in his Recollections of Oxford (1868)
“His introit and exit at Chapel were very peculiar, owing to his gliding, sweeping motion, I can hardly call it gait for he moved (as the heathen deities were said to do) without seeming to divaricate or to take alternative steps. This effect was of course partly produced by his long gown and cassock. His gestures during the service were remarkable, his hands being much in motion and often crossed upon his breast. His seat or pew being large and roomy he was wont to move about in it during service, generally joining aloud in the responses, but without any relation to the right tone.”

His daguerreotype flaws add flavor to the period. An emblem of oxford’s history in a changing age, Routh sits sharp, bright, indomitable and parrot-like, with long claws of an index finger and beaky nose. He is said to have been deaf during his last years but he retained his eyesight, good memory and all his other intellectual powers until he died at the Magdalen College.

Of the many stories told of Routh, he is best known for a response he gave to John Burgon when he questioned what Routh would say to a young don in search of advice. “You will find it a very good practice always to verify your references, sir!”

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