Were you to take a peek into A C Benson's Commonplace Book, you would, after a bit, come across the following exhortation from Dr F J Foakes Jackson: 'It's no use trying to be clever – we are all clever here. Just try to be kind – a little kind.'
It was addressed, at the turn of the century, to a novitiate don at Jesus College, Cambridge, and while Dr F J Foakes Jackson is not remembered for anything else (and indeed is somewhat rarely remembered for this), there can be no question but that his salutary murmur must continue to resonate, however faintly, within that university, much in the manner of an ancient ITMA beetling forever through intergalactic space.
I argue this mainly in default of any alternative as to how Stephen Fry, late of Queens' College, could be at once so very clever and so very nice. That the cleverness, furthermore, is deployed in the service of the niceness, beacons from almost every page of this huge, crammed, wise, hilarious and utterly captivating book.
But what on earth has managed to protect Fry from his own brilliance? The older universities have spawned so many young smart-arses in whom the depth of