To dine in Hall by candlelight remains a great tradition at Magdalene College, Cambridge. At my matriculation dinner, aged 18, I was put next to I. A. Richards, the father of modern English studies. Thick spectacles, long white hair, he lifted his head towards the other tables, and revealed how, sixty years earlier, he sat where I was sitting, when the Honorary Fellow in the chair beside him was Rudyard Kipling, who recently had lost his 18-year-old son Jack at the Battle of Loos. Kipling had gazed into the sea of young faces, underlit by bright, twisting flames, and exclaimed, eyes overspilling: “Look at them, they are the future.”

The glow of the memory permeated Richards’ voice, and for a flash I was sitting beside Kipling.