Transcriber's note: Inconsistent hyphenation and unusual spelling in the original document have been preserved. A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document.
THE CONFESSIONS OF AN ETONIAN.
I. E. M.
London Saunders and Otley, Conduit Street. 1846.
"To preserve the past is half of immortality."
D'ISRAELI THE ELDER.
The author is anxious to request any person who may meet with this trifling volume to bear in mind that it contains the memoir of an unworthy member of the place to which it alludes—that many years have now elapsed since he quitted the spot where its regulations with regard to education have been as much altered as improved. For Eton! "my heart is thine though my shadow falls on a distant land." But should these pages influence the judgment of any mistaken but well-meaning parent, as to his son's future destination, the writer will hope that he has not exposed himself in vain.
THE CONFESSIONS OF AN ETONIAN.
BOOK THE FIRST.
"Here's Harry crying!" And on the instant, my brother awoke the elder ones to witness and enjoy the astounding truth.
"What makes you think that?" I replied, in as resolute a tone as a throat choking with anguish would admit of.
"Why, you're crying now," added another brother; "I see the tears shining in the moonlight."
"Only a little," I at length admitted; and, satisfied with the concession, my numerous brethren composed themselves once more to sleep in the corners of the carriage, on their way to Eton, leaving my eldest brother's pointer and myself at the bottom, to our own reflections As for old Carlo, his still and regular breathing evinced that his mind was as easy and comfortable as his body, sagaciously satisfying himself with the evil of the day as it passed over him. Here Carlo had the advantage of me,—I anticipated the morrow. Strange and boisterous school-boys, tight-pantalooned ushers, with menacing canes, were, to my yet unsophisticated mind, anything but agreeable subjects for a reverie, and I felt proportionately doleful; I turned my thoughts on the past, and I was very miserable.
I now learnt that I had been happy, and, for the first time, appreciated that happiness. The hours of this long, weary day had appeared to be as many months; and when I ruminated on former scenes, and their dear little events, I sighed in bitterness, "What a time ago all this seems!" And as I peered up at the moon from my abyss through the window, my eyes unconsciously swam with tears, when I reflected that, if at home, I should at this moment be taking tea with my dear nurse, Lucy, and my sister's governess, just before I went to bed.
I had now bid an eternal farewell to, doubtless, by far the dearest,—happiest period of our existence, the dawn of life's day—that enviable time when "we have no lessons;" when the colt presses, with his unshod foot, the fresh and verdant meadow, while he wonders at the team toiling under a noontide sun, over the parched and arid fallow in the distance.
This, then, was my first lesson of experience; and on reflection, perhaps many of us will agree that, after all the vaunted troubles and anxieties incident to manhood, few surpass in intensity and hopelessness the sad separation from home for a detested school; it is real and wringing anguish, though, fortunately, like flayed eels, we eventually become inured to it.
I now went through, for three years at a private school, the usual routine of punishment and bullying preparatory for Eton; and as these were of the ordinary kind, I will at once omit this epoch of my life, and commence with my debut at that great capital of England's schools.
It may not be out of place to give here a slight and rapid sketch of the scene to which these immediate pages are confined, as well as of other matters connected with it.
Every one knows where Windsor is, and that Eton was separated from it by the Thames, until united by Windsor Bridge. But, with regard to the latter town, there may be some confusion, for it is divided into Eton, and Eton proper. This last will hereafter be distinguished as "College," and is situated about half a mile from the bridge, to which it is connected by the town.
"College," I think, may be said to comprehend "the school-yard," the suburbs, and "the playing fields."
"The school-yard" is a spacious and respectable quadrangle; the upper school, the church, the cloisters, and long chamber, each respectively forming a side of it. In the centre is placed the statue of the founder, Henry VI.
"The upper school" is placed over an arched cloister, and an ominous-looking region, in which, I suspect, is the magazine of birch. The school is nothing more than an extensive room, with its floor lined with fixed forms, and the wainscot with sculptured names innumerable. One is guilty of a sad omission should he quit Eton without giving a crown to Cartland to perpetuate his name on the immortal oak. Perhaps the loss of few olden records would be more deplored than its destruction, for here are registered many of Eton's worthiest sons; C.I. FOX, as in after life, is here pre-eminent. Adjoining the upper end is another room, called "the library," in which there is not a book, but there is "the block," which speaks volumes; and as a library may, by a little forcing, be defined to be a chamber set apart for the acquirement of learning, this room is not, perhaps, misnamed.
This block is a very simple machine—merely a couple of steps. The victim places his knees on the lower, and his elbows on the upper step; but if the reader will thus place himself in his imagination, he will enter more immediately into the spirit of the thing.
In front of him he sees a couple of little collegers, to hold aside the skirts of his coat. On his left is Keate, like Jupiter about to hurl his thunderbolt; on his right "the birch cupboard;" and though he can see nothing, he has little doubt of what is in his rear, the instant he is operated on. "Neither intemperance nor old age hae, in gout or rheumatic, an agony to compare wi' a weel-laid-on whack of the tawse, on a part that for manners shall be nameless."
The church, though not very remarkable for its dimensions, may be styled a handsome and venerable Gothic edifice; simple and regular, with its sides supported by deep and lofty buttresses, the recesses of which form the boys' "fives-walls."
The cloisters form another small quadrangle. Over them are built the comfortable dwellings of the "College fellows," and "the College library," which is somewhat more appropriately furnished than that just described.
The Fellows have each been boys on the foundation, having been elected, according to seniority, to King's College, Cambridge, from whence they have been re-elected Fellows of Eton.
"Long chamber" is long enough to contain nearly the whole of the collegers, or boys on the foundation, whose complement I conjecture to be about seventy. This is a region of which I can give but an uncertain description, for few "Oppidans" cared to venture in. When I did, it was to be tossed in a blanket, so that, though elevated, my survey was hasty and superficial; but I suspect that the entire furniture to which a colleger lays claim, is his bed and bureau, tables and chairs being here as much out of keeping (if they could be kept at all) as at Stonehenge. En passant—this tossing was a pastime replete with the sublime and awful. That their efforts might be simultaneous, those who held the blanket, and they were legion, made use of the following neat hexameter:
"Ibis ab excusso, missus ab astra, sago."
And you go with a vengeance. "You shall fly from the quivering blanket, despatched to the stars." The suspense was fearful while awaiting the utterance of the ultimate syllable—how perfectly and permanently have I acquired this pithy verse!
The floor is polished once a year on Election Friday, by "rug-riding." This is accomplished by rolling a fellow up in a counterpane, here properly called a rug. To either end of him is attached a rope, to which five or six boys are harnessed. The floor is now well smeared with tallow-grease, over which the warm mummy, rendered still hotter by friction, is now drawn with delightful velocity. The polish thus obtained is admirable, and but the slightest flavour of grease lingers until the ensuing election.
The suburbs form a small town, composed of a few large and indispensable shops, together with the houses of the masters and dames, at whose houses the boys, not on the foundation, and who are denominated "oppidans," board and lodge.
"The playing-fields" are very extensive, and subdivided into the playing-fields, "upper-shooting-fields," and "lower-shooting-fields." The two latter are separated from the former by "poet's-walk," a lovely little peninsula, with an avenue of lime-trees running through its entire length.
The shooting-fields are appropriated solely to cricket, and in winter are "out of bounds." The playing-fields are open for foot-ball in the winter, and for fighting all the year round. The whole is most beautifully situated on the banks of the Thames, with the Little Park and Windsor Castle on the opposite side. In addition, it is lined and studded with the stateliest and most gigantic elms in England.
These three divisions, the school-yard, suburbs, and playing-fields, form in theory "the bounds," which in practice are boundless, an Etonian's movements being curbed by time, rather than by space.
Eton, at its foundation, was a charity-school for seventy boys. In time, it received other pupils. The original ones are collegers, who are distinguished by a coarse black gown; the latter are oppidans, literally meaning "town-boys." The former may not wear white trowsers, and all are debarred boots, and black or coloured neckcloths.
Collegers are dieted solely on mutton; hence they are familiarly and vulgarly termed "mutton-tugs," abbreviated to "tugs," which homely monosyllable they themselves derive from togati, on account of their wearing the toga—had they not better trace their origin at once from that mysterious and secret society of the Thugs of India? But their internal economy should be treated with diffidence, for between them and the oppidans there was ever an undefined, though "great gulf fixed." Owing to this, there is a difficulty in deciding how much, if any, of the following incident may be authentic. As asserted above, they were confined to mutton, the whole mutton, and nothing but the mutton, until the humane, but late Mr. Godolphin bequeathed a sum of money, to be appropriated in supplying them with potatoes, which henceforth accompanied the mutton, though in a state of nature; and as this was not contrary to the statute, and as in all charities as little is done for the money as is possible, the poor boys and their potatoes were without remedy, until one of the College Fellows kindly bequeathed an annuity towards extricating them from their dilemma. He has ever since been appropriately immortalized as "Pealipo Roberts."
Each boy has a tutor, who is one of the masters, of whom there are about thirteen. Their chief occupation is in correcting, and explaining the errors of their pupils' exercises. At the period now spoken of, the school consisted of six hundred and twenty boys, probably the greatest number it had hitherto attained. Each master's house is generally filled with boarders.
The "dames" are boarding-houses, mostly kept by clergymen's widows, or widows of some sort; there are also about thirteen of these.
Assistant masters are professors of French, mathematics, writing, and dancing; but they are altogether independent of the college, and are taken or not at the will of the parents.
There is another class of assistant masters, and these are the Cads. They are the professors of shooting, rowing, and cricket, and have many pupils. The most leading characters among them were Jack Hall, Lary Miller, Pickey Powell, and Jemmy Flowers; but with regard to the latter there existed a slight odium, owing to his religious tenets—he was suspected of Mahometanism. Lary Miller ever asserted his conviction, that "Jemmy was a Maho-maiden, having surprised him one evening in the Brocas, lying on his stomach, worshipping a very large mushroom." Making due allowance for Lary's notorious veracity, and for Jemmy Flowers' religious inebriety, still the circumstance of a mushroom, and that a large one, flourishing on the Brocas, must ever throw a strong air of improbability over this assertion.
There is a holiday on every red-lettered saint's-day in the calendar; when this, or no other excuse occurs, it is termed "a regular week," when Tuesday is a whole holiday, Thursday half an one, and Saturday three-quarters.
The longest period of time a boy uninterruptedly enjoys to himself may be said to comprise two hours, commencing each time at twelve, four, and six o'clock, on whole and half holidays; and these periods are designated by the never-to-be-forgotten sounds of "after twelve," "after four," and "after six."
"Whole school days" affect this arrangement but little, the difference being, that on holidays, they are separated from each other, by attendance on absence, and church; and on whole school-days, by school-times, of which there are four, commencing each at eight, eleven, three, and five o'clock.
The boys learn all their lessons, and do their exercises, in their own rooms, going into school to say or construe them. One school-time occupies about three-quarters of an hour.
The whole school is divided into six forms, of which the sixth ranks the highest. This, and the fifth form, comprise about half the number of boys, for whom the lower half fag. An upper boy may fag a lower one to Windsor, or anywhere else.
Though the river be out of bounds, half of the boys dedicate themselves to boating during the summer. The extent and main object of their expedition is "Surly Hall," a notorious public-house, three miles up the river from Windsor Bridge. Surly Hall may be said to be appropriated to the Etonians, and here they rest themselves. I never recollect one boy guilty of intoxication at this place.
There are two grand aquatic processions every year up to this Surly Hall—on the 4th of June, George the Third's birth-day; and on Election Saturday, towards the end of July. They are beautiful gala-days, when eight or ten long-boats are rowed by their crews in costume, accompanied by a couple of military bands; swarms of nobility and gentry come from London to enjoy them, some person of peculiar rank being "the sitter" in the leading boat; but boating is not allowed.
"Montem," so called, perhaps, from the ceremony of a boy flourishing a flag on a small mount, occurs every third year, when the upper boys are dressed as officers, and the fags, resembling sailors, in white trowsers and blue jackets. Thus they are obliged to expose themselves to a multitude, while they walk to Salt Hill, where they dine. As an Eton boy, I have witnessed four Montems, and could never think of each but as a ridiculous, tedious, and detestable performance; the only good resulting is, that the captain of the collegers receives several hundreds of pounds, which are collected from the crowd by other collegers in fancy dresses, and denominated "salt-bearers," and "runners," who dun high and low for "salt."
"How old are you, Graham?" asked my future tutor.
"Nine, if you please, sir."
"Can you do sense-verses?"
"No, sir, only nonsense ones."
"Well, you are placed in the upper Greek; be in eight-o'clock-school to-morrow. Graham," calling me back, "take this order to the book-seller, and he will give you the requisite school-books. It is Greek grammar in the morning; get a boy to show you where the lesson is. You may go."
So soon as I had procured the books, I peeped into the Greek grammar, which struck me as being an interesting-looking book, for hitherto, I had never even seen a Greek letter. I went to my Dames, where I found Tyrrel ma, and Kennedy, who shared my room, playing at battledore.
"You don't care for the row, Graham, do you?" asked Tyrrel, after they had played half an hour, and observing that I looked a little puzzled.
"Oh, that makes no difference," I sighed, "but this Greek is such odd stuff, and I don't know a letter in the alphabet except the four first ones. Can you give us a help?"
After a lengthened debate among us, the only apparent chance for me was, that the lesson should be written out in English letters, so that when I repeated it, I should appear to know my lesson. This, Tyrrel good-naturedly effected for me.
At eight o'clock, then, the next morning, in due routine, I approached the master in his desk, under the same superstitious awe as poor Friday, when he cowered before the august Crusoe. I would not have failed in my performance for worlds, and now entered the desk resolved on acquitting myself to perfection.
My ardour was not slightly damped when, on uttering a few words, the master, with a frown, demanded why I had not commenced where the previous boy had left off.
"I thought, sir, that I was to begin at the beginning."
"What business have you to think?"
Commencing, then, as he directed me, I had no sooner recited four lines, than he ordered me to "go."
"That's not all, if you please, sir."
"It's quite enough for me; go."
So I went, under the painful suspicion that I had failed, and was to be punished accordingly. I was not yet aware that the succeeding boy went on with the lesson where his predecessor had left off; and when he had said his three or four lines, he likewise was dismissed, and so on—it being taken for granted, that the boy knew the remainder of the task; but this extreme innocence of mine, when I informed the master that I had not accomplished the whole lesson, is not a little amusing, when compared to my future career, was it not for the remorse a man of crime might feel when he reverts his thoughts to a time ere he had transgressed. At that time I should have acted similarly under every circumstance; I intended well.
"Now let us go to breakfast," said Kennedy, as I returned to the room.
"Will you fellows get it ready, and make the tea," asked Tyrrel, "while I go and lay breakfast for my master?" Kennedy and myself were as yet exempt from that duty for a fortnight, which is the privilege granted to each new comer.
"What a lucky fellow I am," said Tyrrel, on his return, "to have you two in my mess, with your new set of tea-things, and a double set, too! If we manage well, they'll last us easily to the holidays. Till you came, I was obliged to slip into other fellows' rooms, and sharp a cup of tea. Now, let us regularly lock up everything in my cupboard, for it's quite empty; how comfortable we shall be; and your pictures, Kennedy, make the room look so nice!"
"And what beautiful frames they have!" I observed.
"The frames and glasses," replied Kennedy, "were a present for those views about home, which a sister sketched for me."
"What shall we do after twelve?" asked Tyrrel.
"Can't we go out in a boat?"
It was soon arranged that Kennedy and Tyrrel should play at cricket, and that I should stay in to work at my Greek, of which another lesson occurred at five-o'clock-school. At two o'clock, the trio met at dinner; after which we proceeded to our room, where, soon as we entered, Kennedy beheld each of his drawings rifled of their glasses, which lay shivered to pieces beneath them on the floor.
Gregory mi had, in an unlucky moment, lounged into the room with a little cross-bow, and had practised his skill on each in succession.
"Never mind, Kennedy," said Tyrrel, "they must have been broken one time or another."
I now proceeded unwarily enough to the cloisters, where I thought I might puzzle out my hieroglyphical task more in quiet.
"I say, my little man, you must come and bowl to me."
"I've got my lesson to learn," I replied.
"When do you say it?" inquired the fifth-form boy; and finding that it was not required till five o'clock, and discrediting my singular difficulty, which I stated to him, he at once took me away, notwithstanding that, as a saving clause, I asserted the privilege due to a boy's first fortnight, but which, I was now told, should not avail me for having told such a falsehood about the lesson. In the following schooltime I was, of course, "put in the bill," but was not flogged, in consequence of pleading my "first fault," another and too fleeting privilege of a new boy.
On returning to my room in the evening, I found my two friends looking unutterable things, while around them lay, "like leaves in wint'ry weather," the fragments of our prided crockery ware!
In our absence, a boy, well knowing what he was about, had come to the cupboard to sharp some tea-things, but finding, to his disappointment, that it was locked, he was yet determined that we should not escape him. The whole was unfortunately suspended, by a bit of rope, to a large nail in the wall; this, then, he had maliciously cut, and the result had proved fatal to the whole "double set of tea-things," with the exception of a pewter salt-cellar. "Well, they must have been broken, one time or another," archly remarked Kennedy.
A very few days had elapsed before I had become a genuine Etonian, which a boy is never accounted until he has been once flogged. Notwithstanding my respect of that honourable title, I was still very unwilling to purchase it so dearly. I had an inclination for forming my own opinion upon matters, somewhat independently of others; and though, in the lower part of the school, to be put in the bill, and suffer accordingly, carried with it anything but a reflection towards the subject of it, still, for reasons of my own, I concluded that it would be far more respectable to act otherwise. This, then, with me, was not merely an opinion—it became a principle, and one which, unfortunately, I was most anxious to preserve inviolate—unfortunately, because it must inevitably be outraged. Even under the most favourable circumstances, owing to my ignorance of its rudiments, I was sensible that I must frequently fail in my Greek tasks; what chance, then, had I, constantly thwarted in my endeavours to avoid this, by hourly and capricious fagging?
This, then, weighed upon my mind in no slight degree, for though exposed, from an early period, "to rough it" more than was common, the sensitiveness of a boy's disposition will be anything but deadened in consequence, so long as he thinks for himself, and forms his own line of right and wrong, though perhaps it schools him precociously to conceal what his associates may deem to be his weaknesses, though probably his better traits of character, should he be blessed with such. This tendency was not likely to be diminished by the following incident:—
From the moment I first left my home, which was at an early period, the little religious instruction I might have received from my nurse was abandoned, and never even reflected on for a moment, till within a short time of my departure for Eton, when, by some chance train of thought, I became sensible that I knew not a single prayer—at least perfectly. I was well aware that other boys did, though many neglected them. To supply this my deficiency, I henceforth never failed to offer up, each morning and evening, extemporary ones, and which, though puerilely adapted to little impressions or wants, yet flowed the more truly from the heart, and cherished an affectionate, and therefore, truly religious feeling, towards my Almighty Father.
One morning I was awakened by the clock striking the hour in which I should have been in school, when, instantly dressing myself, I harried away, and on returning to my room, was kneeling at a chair, when I was interrupted by the dreaded vociferation of "lower boy!"
Though knowing the consequences, should I be discovered, I never for a moment wavered as to the course I should adopt, but continued deliberately at my accustomed devotions. As I was thus occupied, the fifth-form boy entered my room to learn my reason for neglecting his summons, and was for a moment startled when he discovered in what manner I was employed; but, without further hesitation or compunction, taking me by the collar, he inflicted a blow as a punishment for my presumption. This was a little too much, so instantly springing at him, and taking him unawares, for a moment I actually beat my tyrant off, when Kennedy accidentally presenting himself at the door, at once ranged himself by my side. This made the pitiful fellow pause, and finding that, though so immeasurably his juniors, we were resolute, he prudently informed us, that so soon as we had procured the captain's permission to fight with him, he would comply; this formality existing on a feud arising between an upper and lower boy. On inquiring into the case, the captain refused his consent, but added a severe threat towards my aggressor.
Insignificant as they appear, these incidents had lasting effects on me. With regard to the first, I at once resigned myself in despair to the bitterness of a disappointed, and almost a broken spirit; and, so far as all scholastic duties were concerned, I henceforth adopted a reckless, heedless course, except that I pursued it doggedly and systematically.
As to my religious duties, I was considerably embarrassed, and that, because I bestowed some attention upon them; had I not, I should have been as easy in this respect as most other boys. However, after no little examination into the subject, and, by-the-bye, confusion, I came to the resolution of guiding myself as well as I could by what little knowledge I might possess; and unspiritual as this reliance on my own efforts evidently was, I, in unison with it, farther resolved, that should I omit what I knew to be right, I would refrain, at all events, from that which I judged to be wrong—and I do not see what I could have done more.
To assist, or prevent me in my resolution, things were nearly balanced. No boy had been more completely exposed to the chance of circumstance, and, in consequence, to the unbiassed sway of my natural disposition, which was restless in the extreme. For this there is no alternative—for good or bad, work it will, and in such a case idleness is indeed the root of all evil.
To save me from, or rather to diminish this danger, I was at that time imbued, in no trifling degree, with benevolence and candour; and I was free, also, of two qualities which I have since acquired, for they are appendages as common to our natures as are our limbs to our bodies. I was devoid of selfishness and prejudice; and as society is constituted, one commences life with a bad start, destitute of such accomplishments.
Of the seven days in the week, probably more flogging occurs on Friday than during all the others put together. On the unfortunate, the shuffling, and the dense, the effect of this day's ordeal has ever proved to be most searching. On Thursday, then, towards the conclusion of eleven o'clock school, the boys were not a little delighted, when Keate, closing the book, informed them that an hour since he had been honoured with a request from his Majesty that the morrow might be converted into a whole holiday, and that they should be indulged accordingly. It need hardly be stated with what yells of ecstasy this announcement was received, as we rushed from our seats, lightened of the sombre dread of "Friday's business."
In the evening, I was summoned to the tea-table of Gregory, my puissant master, to account, if I could, for my presumptuous absence at a time when every fag's presence was so imperatively required. On my appearance, my fellow-fag was astonished at the air of confidence with which I advanced towards the table, guilty of such a heinous omission. My master, for some seconds, regarded me with a stern and savage aspect.
"You little rascal," at length he exclaimed, his voice deepening under the effects of rage soon to be amply gratified, "you've been toasting these muffins with the snuffers!" At the same time he confidently pointed out to me, with savage delight, the single and blackened mark occasioned by such an unorthodox implement. This was not what I was prepared for, and the circumstance was, alas, but too evident, and the palms of my hands were immediately tingling under the strokes of my master's hair-brush.
"And now," said he, pausing for a moment, "I am going to give you another licking for not being here in time."
"No," I exclaimed, "you have excused me a fortnight's fagging; at least, you said yesterday that you would, should I ask the King for a holiday to-morrow."
This was the truth, and so, in an unguarded moment, he had expressed himself; but being, at the least, as anxious for a holiday as he was, and sighing for a fortnight's emancipation from slavery, I had determined to take him at his word, and obey him to the letter. In a spirit, then, of excessive innocence, or impudence—I think the former, though I may have since exchanged it for the latter—I had started off for the cottage in Windsor Park, where the King was then residing, and had actually gained admittance without interruption from any one, though I was now accosted by a gentleman who demanded the purport of my visit. I replied that I had come up to ask the King to get us a holiday for Friday. Upon this, he informed me that it was not usual for strangers to see his Majesty while resident at the cottage, and that I had better wait until his Majesty returned to the Castle; and then he kindly walked back with me towards the garden, through which I had previously passed, and there left me. Here I met Jerningham walking with his mother, whom I acquainted with the object of my interview with the Duke of Dorset, as he proved to be. This happened to be a very fortunate rencontre for me, as Lady Jerningham eventually turned out to be my "friend at court," and had seconded my petition with success.
As the next day was a holiday entirely originating with myself, I concluded that I had a right to make the most of it, and enjoy it in my own way. Under this impression, Kennedy and I started at seven that morning, towards Perch-hole, where Lary Miller was to meet us with a punt and casting-net, and we were to fish our way down the river, towards Datchet. While awaiting him at the water's edge, among other inventions to amuse ourselves, Kennedy thoughtlessly snatching off my hat, set it floating on the water; so taking him by the collar, ere I had time to reflect, I swung him well into Perch-hole. The moment he scrambled out, there seemed to be no doubt on either side as to what was to be done. Indeed, it would be impossible to say which of us struck the first blow, though the question with us now was, who was to give the last. Perhaps any other boys, as soon as the first burst of passion had exploded, would have deferred the contest to another opportunity, when each might be attended by his second; but Kennedy breathed nothing but immediate retaliation, and probably he might wish to exercise himself after his immersion. I also preferred the present time, as, on giving the subject a momentary consideration, during the early period of the fight, it struck me as being most repugnant and ungrateful to my feelings, to meet my greatest friend in cool blood, to see which could batter the other the most, and that, too, only to glut the sight of hundreds.
In general, each battle at Eton is conducted with all the etiquette incidental to the prize-ring, under the latest regulations of the Birmingham Youth, or White-headed Bob. Indeed, one would here conclude that it was impossible to contend without a ring, seconds, and time-keeper. Notwithstanding the deficiency of these desiderata, we weaved merrily away for nearly an hour, during which period, perhaps from being the lightest, I was prostrated three times, which therefore divided the contest into but three stages or rounds, during which time each rested on the grass, and conscientiously recommenced our operations, the instant we imagined that the half-minute had expired.
The clock now struck a quarter-past nine, when we were reminded, that should we fight on, each would be well flogged for disregard of absence; and as our occupation was barely worth the penalty, we at once put on our jackets, and departed in silence, to answer to our names, while, as a matter of course, we were to finish the battle after twelve, for my holiday afforded us ample time.
This morning, therefore, for the first time, we breakfasted in different rooms. Each now commenced this repast with feelings far from cheerful. The anger of the moment having passed away, there remained no sense of enmity between us; and yet, in an hour or two, we were to meet again, like a couple of dogs, and mangle each other as we best might.
Kennedy could not but feel that he was not only the strongest, but had actually been more prevalent in the contest than myself; nor did he, on this account, congratulate himself, when he reflected that the appointed hour was fast approaching when he must do his best to thrash me still more. The sole thought that weighed on my mind, was that of having quarrelled with a fellow whom I liked far beyond myself. At this moment the door opened, and Kennedy, placing his rolls and butter on the table, stretched his hand across it towards me, and the next, we were sipping our tea together out of the pewter salt-cellar, with no farther traces of enmity, save the three unequivocal black eyes we retained between us.
This subject reminds me of a very melancholy one which I witnessed several years afterwards; and as I have heard it discussed so frequently, and so erroneously, I cannot help wishing, if possible, to give a concise and true statement of the case. In the instance alluded to, the contest might be said to have terminated with no unusual consequences, for the clock had struck the hour in which it was imperative for every one of us to be in his dames for the night, and the combatants were in the act of putting on their coats, and all would have been well, had not a voice, which I distinctly recollect, exclaimed, "One more round!" Whichever had now declined would have been considered as vanquished: they closed, struggled for the fall, and the fall was fatal. The sole cause of this miserable catastrophe was that voice of a mere bystander, and of this he must be as sensible as I am. I know not who he may be, nor do I envy him his secret.
It was now getting towards the latter end of July, and I had been an Etonian nearly three months. During this time I had experienced a fair average of fighting, bullying, fagging, and flogging, and had also acquired some useful accomplishments. I could paddle my skiff up to Surly Hall and back, swim across the river at Upper Hope, and had even begun to get in debt, having some weeks ago "gone tick" with Joe Hyde for a couple of bottles of ginger-beer, with the proviso of returning them when empty, but which, it must be confessed, were still lying at the bottom of Deadman's Hole, for the farther improvement of my diving.
Having just been disappointed in my endeavours to procure a boat at Hester's, I was returning towards my dames about the middle of after-six, totally at a loss for amusement. Every other boy was now eagerly employed on the river, or at cricket, and the whole college was silent and deserted. As I strolled listlessly along, I observed a funeral slowly issuing from the church-door on its way to the burial-ground. Singular to say, this was the first instance of death's doing on a fellow-being I had yet witnessed. On its approach, I seated myself on the Long-walk wall, and watched the coffin and its noiseless followers, as they glided slowly before me. So soon as all had passed, I quietly slid down from my seat, and accompanied the procession at a little distance.
While we are young, we are not only moved more easily, but doubt not that every person else feels as sincerely. Under this impression, I accompanied the corpse towards its grave, touched with a sort of pity for the mourners, and sobered by a deep and respectful sympathy.
As I stood by the brink of the grave, I could not but feel a soothing comfort and hope under our affliction, so beautifully held out to us by the spirit of "the service of the dead;" and I even entertained an affection for the clergyman who officiated. But when I witnessed the lowering of the coffin to its future resting-place—heard the soft crumbling of the churchyard soil, as it dropped from the grasp of the sexton on the below-sounding coffin, down below—the anguished but stifled moan of the childless father, who had apparently expended his hard-got earnings for the interment of his child—I not only repassed the gates considerably affected, but overpowered with an indescribable dread of impending death. I was now possessed with a servile love of God, arising from fear; an anxiety to please and obey him, to an infinite degree. Alas! even at this early age, how worldly-minded, how pitiful, can be our motives!
I now determined within myself, as resolutely as presumptuously, to "go and sin no more;" and to that effect, that very evening, dived to the bottom of Deadman's Hole, and returned to Joe Hyde his horribly portentous bottles.
A few weeks previous to the holidays, "the old Queen" gave a magnificent fete at Frogmore, when, to form a prominent feature in the day's amusements, her favourites, the Etonians, were invited to play a cricket-match, for which a beautiful space of lawn had already been most good-naturedly prepared.
I think the first approach to royalty must ever be most interesting to boys, at least it was deeply so to me on this day; for when I observed the wide-swelling lawns, the broad groves, and glassy lakes of this little paradise; the Queen, with the princesses and royal suite, as they glided over the turf in a train of pony-carriages, lined and shining with the richest satins; the splendid and gaudy clusters of marquees, glittering in all the pride of Tippoo's eastern magnificence, from whom they had been rifled, with their bright crescents blazing in the sunbeams—I found all the lovely and dearly remembered fancies, conjured before my infant imagination by the nursery tale, at once placed in delightful reality before me.
Towards the evening, I had rambled, considerably fatigued with the restless pleasures of the day, into the most secluded parts of the shrubberies, and was resting on a seat, listening to the notes of a bugle band in the distance, when they were interrupted by the steps of some one passing quickly along the gravel walk towards me, and the next moment I saw a girl approaching the gate in front of me. I instantly rose and opened it for her; but as she passed, the little girl, after a slight hesitation, inquired with an expression of some anxiety if I had seen her father, Sir George Curzon.
"I do not know your father by sight," I answered, "and fear you will hardly meet with him here; for I have been more than half an hour on this seat, and have seen no one at all."
"I declare," she sighed, "I do not know how I shall find him, and I am quite tired, too! But will you, if you please, tell me the way towards the palace—I should be much obliged to you?"
"As well as I can," I answered; "but would it not be better that I ran and inquired for your father, and brought him here, for then, in the meanwhile, as you are tired, you can rest yourself on this bench?"
"You are very good-natured," replied Miss Curzon, as she sat down; "but if you will only wait until I have rested for a minute, perhaps you will go with me towards the palace, for I don't like being here quite alone."
I now perceived that the poor little girl had been crying.
"But why are you here by yourself?" she added, the next moment; "have you lost your way too? But sit down, there is room for both." And she looked up so kindly, while her beautiful little hand, contrasting with the rough bench, pressed it to enforce her request.
How happy was I to obey her, and yet how painfully confused! In a word, I was out of my element, this being my very first rencontre with one of the softer sex; for which reason, though so many years have since passed away, I cannot help reciting and recollecting it as an occurrence of yesterday.
"Are you not an Eton boy?" demanded Miss Curzon.
"Yes; but I have been one only for a few months."
"Papa says that Frederic shall be sent to Eton, by and bye," she replied, rather abstractedly.
"Perhaps, then," I answered, "I shall know him—at least, I hope I may."
"Oh, it will be a long while before he joins you, for he is quite little yet; and then, you know, he must be your fag, instead of your friend."
"I shall never fag a brother of yours," I answered.
"May I ask you some questions about this horrid fagging?" demanded Miss Curzon, and turning towards me.
"Of course," said I; "as many as you please."
"Have you got what they call a master?"
"Certainly; every lower boy must have one."
"What do you do for him?"
"Lay his breakfast and tea-things every day, and make his toast."
"Whatever he chooses."
"And if you did not choose to do it?"
"I should get a good thrashing; or, in other words, Miss Curzon, get a good licking."
After a brief silence, she resumed her questions.
"As you have been so short a time at Eton, I suppose you have not yet been punished?"
"O yes, many times. I got a capital flogging yesterday."
"Will you tell me what you were flogged for?"
"For eating in church."
"And what could make you do that?"
"I had been fagging all the morning, Miss Curzon; and having no time for breakfast, I went into church with my rolls in my pocket, and one of the masters saw me eating them."
"You have quite frightened me for poor little Frederic!"
"Perhaps he will be more fortunate," I replied; "so I must even wish, as you said just now, that he may indeed be my fag, for then he can breakfast with me every morning."
"I declare I will ask papa to place him under your care if you will let me?"
"You cannot know, Miss Curzon, how obliged I feel to you for thinking that I would take care of your brother; and depend upon it, I will."
"Yes," said the little lady, looking stedfastly in my face, "I feel quite certain you would. But," she added, as her own brightened with a smile, "you must now fulfil your first promise to me, and find my father, for I am so tired, I must rest here a little longer."
"Very well," I replied; "but how I should like to talk with you here all night! Do not go away until I return."
I now hurried away in search of her father, who, after many inquiries, was pointed out to me by Chrichton, though in a very inaccessible position; for he was standing with other important personages, among whom I could discern the Duke, by the side of her Majesty's poney-phaeton.
"Do, Chrichton," I begged—"do go up to Sir George Curzon for me; you are more used to that sort of thing than I."
All my eloquence being thrown away upon him, and on that instant thinking of my little lady in the grove, I walked towards the group with my hat in my hand, without further hesitation.
"If you please, Sir George Curzon, there is a young lady in the shrubberies who wants you."
"I think, young sir," replied Sir George, "you must make a mistake."
"No, sir. She has lost you, she says; it is Miss Curzon."
"Dear me! I thought she had been all this while with her aunt. Where is she?"
"A little beyond that temple on the hill, there," I replied, pointing with my hat.
"You need hardly go all that way yourself," said the Duke, observing Sir George about to follow me; "the boy can show her here very well."
"Yes, Sir George," added her Majesty; "let the little boy run and bring her."
"Well, then, my little gentleman," asked Sir George, "may I ask you to do so?"
"Oh, yes, Sir," I replied, and I was off on my way towards her in a moment.
"I have found your father. Miss Curzon," said I on my return, "and he has asked me to lead you to him. I hope I have not been long."
"I am sorry you should have had so much trouble," she answered, as she took my arm; "but we must now make haste, for it is getting quite late, and I know papa wishes to go part of the way home to-night."
"Do you live far from here, then?" I rather pointedly inquired.
"Oh, yes—I don't know how many miles—all the way down in Cheshire; we took this place in our road from town."
"Well, then, Miss Curzon," I said, as we approached her father, "I wonder if ever we shall meet again! You cannot think how I hope we may; but now good bye, and——"
"You need not leave me quite yet," she replied, interrupting me; "come a little further with me—what were you going to say?"
"Though I may never see you more, nobody will ever be so glad to hear that you are happy as I; for I would sooner see you so than any person I know."
"Thank you, thank you," she replied, rather earnestly, "and I hope we shall be able—indeed, I am certain I shall see you again somewhere—I will not," she added, as we approached the circle, "I will not, if you please, keep your arm before them. Good bye, then; I shall hear of you, at all events, from my brother."
She then left me, while I reluctantly directed my steps towards the college, which now appeared unwelcome and obtrusive. She was so different to everything I had hitherto experienced!—so gentle and kind—so unassuming, and yet so lovely—and now to be torn away and severed from such a person! That night I attempted to console myself in the following effusion; and as they are the first and last lines of which I was ever guilty, shall be here inserted; for though the versification is by no means faultless, they were true to my feelings at the time:—
When 'midst the deepest gloom of night, While all is still and lone, A heavenly meteor flashes bright, But floats away as soon;
Does not the bosom of the moor Seem doubly dark and drear, Frowning still sterner than before Did that false light appear!
So, lady, have you crossed my way, Brighter than cloudless morn— So o'er this heart thy piercing ray. Gleamed—and thou art gone!
My first half-year as an Etonian had now expired. Brief as it was, it has been to me the most portentous period of my existence. I sometimes feel that my fate, here and hereafter, has hinged upon it—this world is globular for the same reason that a woman's tear is. Are we the creatures of the merest chance, or of eternal predestination through all time, if there be such a thing as time at all? The question is idle; for as we have never yet solved it, I begin to think we never shall. The Almighty has willed this obscurity, and therefore it is for the best.
I sensitively felt that I was launched amid the crowd of a bustling world, to steer and shift for myself as I best might. Like other boys, I had a tutor; but, though a thoroughly conscientious man, he was worse than useless; for he was to be practised on with such facility, that I, with his other pupils, imposed upon him as we chose.
When I returned for the holidays to the paternal roof, it was only to be fagged by my elder brethren; for here the fagging system, I regret to say, was not only tolerated, but carried out to its most deplorable extreme.
Ever distant then in our days of boyhood, and that, too, while under the same roof, now that the casualties of after-life have dispersed us, we are become, to all intents and purposes, entire strangers one towards the other.
As to my father, he was, of course, wholly engaged in the cares of providing for so large and expensive a family; and though a man, I am persuaded, of strong and ardent affection for his children, I can barely say that I was acquainted with him.
Accustomed to this sort of distant intercourse from my infancy, I was desirous of no other, until the following occasion, which happened a year or two subsequent to the present time.
I had been engaged in rather an arduous expedition, and, in consequence, was laid up a day or two afterwards with a fever, and in considerable danger of my life. As soon as I could be removed, I was sent to my father's house. In the evening, as we ranged ourselves round the fire, the rest of the family, from prudential motives, removed themselves to a distance. My father drew my chair towards his own, asserting that in illness one should not desert the other.
By the time that I returned home, I had moreover become a confirmed "shuffler."
This word bears, indeed, an ominous insinuation; but at Eton it is not so disreputable as it sounds. The shuffler ever employs what ingenuity he may be gifted with, in contriving how he may do as little in school, and as much out of it, with the least possible flogging; and it is astonishing to what a nicety this calculation can be reduced, and to what a degree of perfection a boy's powers for it may be brought, by constant and careful cultivation.
Yet I was, I think, far from being an idle boy. I neglected my studies, not to become listless and unemployed, but that I might earn more time for other, and, as most persons would think, less edifying pursuits, and was therefore invariably devoted to cricket, rowing, and foot-ball matches.
This, then, was the good or ill effect which resulted from the chance of circumstance. My father had at once concluded, that send a boy to Eton, pay the yearly bills, and his education was infallibly insured.
From the moment that I entered the college, I had been carelessly placed far above my acquirements; and constant flogging was inevitable, for a year or two at least, until, perhaps, by close application, I had made myself equal to my daily tasks. But this was a prospect by far too distant to be entertained by a boy of nine years old; for it is the ambition of a boy not to be flogged at all—not as little as possible.
An objection to sending a boy early to Eton is, that should he have the hardihood to brave frequent punishment, he may be very nearly as idle as he pleases; and at this early age, too, he has not the sense to apply himself to study of his own will, and that, too, while surrounded by so many temptations to the contrary.
One flogging, without the slightest stigma attaching to it, or reprimand, is the certain penalty of failure in his task. With hardihood or without it, I then had no chance, though, at all events, I acquired it, and that too, to such a degree, and I deemed the penalty so trivial, that I henceforth enjoyed a delightful sense of freedom and independence in its way.
If I bestowed a thought on the subject at all, it was to be flogged not more than once in a day, if I could conveniently do otherwise.
Yet, in an irrational mood, I would read—I would frequently steal off to some quiet spot in the neighbourhood, and employ myself in various histories, of which reading I was always very fond. My favourite retreat was up in an old pollarded willow-tree, secure from fagging, and therefore enjoying the distant voices in the playing-fields, delightfully contrasting with the quiet splash of the trout leaping in the river beneath me.
Thus I obtained a respectably accurate knowledge of the Roman, Grecian, and English histories, and a somewhat precocious insight too of the characters of their various and prominent actors.
As for the heroes of the fabulous ages, I was completely conversant with each of their circumstances, and for this reason. I must acknowledge, that, as the hour approached for punishment, I was apt to be troubled in mind, similarly to a patient about to undergo a disagreeable operation; but no sooner had I opened Lempriere's classical dictionary, than every unpleasing anticipation was dissolved, and I became totally unconscious of vulgar realities, and absorbed in its poetical but unequivocal immorality.
In spite of the ingenuity I expended, in order to imbibe as small a quantity of Latin and Greek as was possible, and of the number of persons, whom I have so frequently heard declaiming against the exclusive attention paid to their attainment, and with whom, during my pupillage, I entirely coincided, I cannot help smiling at the extent to which I have since ratted in this respect. Now that I am no longer forced to profit by such studies, I have arrived at the conviction of their necessity. If a knowledge of our own language be desirable, they afford the only means of understanding the true import of the words which constitute it; and when, at times, I have sufficient diffidence to suspect my own capabilities of forming a correct opinion in the matter, and examine into that of others, I have to acknowledge, not only that the advocates of the dead languages are the most competent judges, but that the persons who oppose them the most strenuously, are invariably those who are the least conversant with them; while the former, again, are rarely heard to regret the time expended in their acquirements; while what superior though uneducated man, but has deplored his ignorance of them, and his want of opportunity to acquire them?
But I have, of late, arrived at such an extreme as to advocate the study to the exclusion of all others, with the exception of modern languages. My paradox is this, that which is downright indispensable for everyday life, do not teach us; for then, in spite of ourselves, we must, in these subjects, become our own instructors. If, in a few years after we have left the school, we possess not a respectable knowledge of such common, and easily acquired subjects, as arithmetic, history, and geography, we alone are culpable; and the more the world makes us sensible of our deficiency, the more we deserve it, and the sooner we shall set about to apply the remedy. Teach us, then, in boyhood, that which we will not, or in this case, perhaps, cannot teach ourselves—a knowledge of the classics.
I sometimes suspect that many persons doubt of their importance, from the fact of their being distinguished as the dead languages, while, perhaps, they are exactly the only immortal ones—unchangeable throughout all ages in their primitive purity. In an unwary, or perhaps charitable moment, I am seized with enthusiastic admiration of our forefathers' good taste in so justly appreciating the beauties of ancient literature, though I now and then have a misgiving that it is a relic of the cloister, which had no productions of its own to compete with them, and its traditional authority has not yet become extinct; not that the moderns have produced such works of genius as to supersede them, for those of the imagination are not to be accumulated to greater perfection, from age to age, like those of science. Indeed the works of the ancients, relative to the latter, are now only useful as instances of the progress of the human mind; nor could they be otherwise, as science is more or less perfect in proportion to the ages that have preceded; as it is the last man's knowledge, added to that of all his predecessors, or, as Sir John Herschel far better expresses it, it "is the knowledge of many, orderly and methodically digested and arranged, so as to become attainable by one;" and thus a respectable philosopher of the present day may possess more knowledge than even such powerful and original minds as those of Confucius or Zoroaster, Aristotle or Pythagoras: he is not like the goose I now see wading through the mud, and that can't build its nest a jot better than the sacred ones of the Capitol could.
With regard to works purely imaginative, perhaps the very converse of this will be found to be the case. The bard of Chios is not superseded by those of the Lakes, who, as far as all beauty imparted by the force of originality is concerned, even labour under a disadvantage, for every author is conscious that a strong memory is a dangerous thing, and will interfere with his originality in spite of himself.
If then the sublimest soarings of the human imagination conveyed to our minds, and clothed in all the beauties of language, are desirable, we shall seldom regret the hours we have expended over Homer or Virgil, Demosthenes or Cicero.
But although this comparatively exclusive attachment to the classics may be Eton's most prominent characteristic, I suspect it to be by no means the most important or beneficial one.
The contrast and contact, resulting from the sheer multitude of varying dispositions, refined by the gentlemanly tone of character indigenous to the college, afford advantages superior to all the rest put together.
There are three other prominent features in the economy of Eton, which I have touched on in former pages, namely, those of fagging, flogging, and attendance in church during the week days.
As regards the two former intellectual characteristics, I must admit that I am unusually obtuse; for although boasting a long and intimate acquaintance with both, I have never arrived at any certain conclusion as to their good or ill effects, though I have little doubt but that they contain a mixture of each, only I am uncertain which may preponderate.
The former might be profitable, both to the fagger and the fagged, did it not commence and finish at the wrong end; for could a boy be well fagged from the age of fourteen to eighteen, he would probably be all the better for it, but during this period he is unfortunately the despot. Many persons conclude that the system acts beneficially on the youthful members of the aristocracy; but I think the same end might be attained, and more respectably, by the mere jostling amid the crowd, without proceeding to the extremity of subjecting a boy of gentlemanly feeling, to the coarse caprices of a tradesman's son. I have myself requested the present Marquis of D——e to walk into the playing-fields each evening, with a slop-basin in his hand, and milk an unusually quiet cow that used to be there; but this office fell to his lot, merely from his being the only boy in my dames who knew how to milk a cow—in fact, it was his boast that he could milk a cow better than any man in England. Lord C——stl——h too, must well remember when a great wild, raw-boned Irish fellow, with a rope round his waist, would throw himself from Lion's Leap into the river, by way of learning to swim, while his lordship was appointed to pull him out again; but the particular time that I now mean was, when he was all but drowned, and vociferating with Hibernian vehemence, "pull, you blackguard!" every time his head emerged for a moment from the bottom of the river. But whatever effects this levelling process may have in youthful days, I suspect that they are by no means permanent, and are completely obliterated on leaving the school.
With regard to the punishment of flogging, many persons condemn it, as degrading to a boy's character. These same persons would, probably, deem it out of place to raise their hats on entering a man's shop, and perhaps every one would feel it to be so in England; but in other countries, were they not to do so, the shopkeeper, from experience, would merely attribute the omission to what he deems an instance of ill-breeding, habitual to John Bull; or, when he is not aware of this, he will frequently decline to accommodate his customer. I mention this instance to show, that what may meet with disapprobation in one place, will not do so in another; and thus what to us at a distance, and in after years, may appear to be repulsive, may by no means be so considered during boyhood. Again, others will say, that it ought to be felt as a disgrace. To this, I can only answer that it never will be; for where there are so many boys as at Eton, this mode of punishment must frequently be adopted; and as often as it is, so certain, from its repetition, will it cease to be considered in that light—it is altogether a necessary evil, which flesh is heir to. Should the boy have committed anything unbecoming a gentleman, he is invariably and appropriately punished by the manner adopted towards him by his own associates, and the feeling of the school in general. Let flogging, then, still be tolerated as a mere physical and convenient inconvenience—its effect, too, is but ephemeral, and soon becomes lost among the things that were.
Not so will be the effects of frequent attendance in church. Concerning these three subjects, perhaps no two persons could be found who might entertain similar opinions; therefore, it behoves one to advance any decision as regards them with caution and diffidence; but if one of them admits of greater certainty of opinion than the others, is it not that relative to the frequent occurrence of the church service? However the other two subjects may be opposed, some advantages may be still held out in extenuation of their practice, but I cannot help feeling that this cloying attendance on chapel must be altogether pernicious.
His religion is not to be flogged or forced into a boy, like so much Latin and Greek, or even to be instilled into him by a comparative stranger. Until he comes to be able to inquire or think about it for himself, the duty of instructing him is exclusively incumbent on his parents, or on those who are in more immediate contact with him than the tutors of a college can be. The superior and sufficient influence of the former, in this respect, may be evidenced by the fact of a little Catholic boy whom I knew, duly attending church with the rest of us, and afterwards leaving the school, and remaining to this day as stanch a Papist as ever entered the confessional.
Out of the six or seven hundred boys present during divine service, should only fifty of them have their minds properly disposed, there would be something to advance in support of the practice; but that even this cannot be urged, I would appeal not only to every old Etonian, but to every boy of the present day. With the exception of Sunday, to which, of course, I am not now alluding, a boy, in my time, would almost as soon think of bringing a cricket-bat into church with him as a prayer-book; and if the prayers attracted our attention at all, it was but momentarily, and that merely to ascertain whether the tedious chaplain had nearly arrived at the conclusion of the service.
I assume the nature of boys of the present day to be similar to that of boys twenty years ago; and if so, I suspect that all these services have added about as much to the growth and strength of their religious principles, as the hundred-and-one paternosters and ave-marias muttered by a monk of Camaldoli for the last half century.
But was the evil merely negative, one would hesitate to object to anything that has been adopted for ages by a foundation so admirably conducted as that of Eton, and which has ever worked so well; but an additional effect of this compulsory attendance is to induce, by the force of early habit, an indifference and callousness of feeling during divine service, which but few in after life have the grace to overcome. But are the tutors of the College sensible of similar effects within themselves? Probably not; for there is little reason that they should, inasmuch as they have been preferred to their present situations, and carefully selected from a multitude, in consequence of their very singularity in this respect.
The promoters of this system seem to be guided, not by how it affects the boys, but by how they wish it would. While attending these services with appropriate feeling themselves, I suspect that they are apt to forget how different was their own conduct on the same occasions in their youth; or if not, they must imagine that the rising generation has become far more immaculate than their predecessors; "but boys will be boys" to the end of the chapter—and here it is.
Six years have now glided away, and my station as an Etonian has experienced a still greater revolution. In place of being a fag, I was now the puissant "captain of my dames," and had six lower boys of my own; but my greatest privilege consisted in being the possessor of rather more than three thousand "old copies."
These are the original copies of verses on various subjects which have borne the correction of their authors' tutors, and which have been reserved and put by, after a fair copy of them has been shown up in school.
The collection now in my possession had been, for years, entailed by its founder upon the captain of my dames, whoever he might be, for the time being. These, then, I enjoyed for four years, and a subject could not well be given us, but I possessed it already composed on. True, I was once at a loss, when we had to produce verses on the death of George III.; but several copies, simply on death, with a dash here and there of my own put in to suit the present occasion, sufficiently answered the purpose, at the cost of but very little literary labour. One boy, I remember, actually had two old copies on the death of George II., of such respectable antiquity was his collection of MSS.
In addition to this inestimable treasure, I had become, by this time, flogged into the school routine of business, and could now, with ease, perform the requisite and daily tasks, no longer laying in any claim to the designation of a shuffler, at least to the eyes of the vulgar. My four remaining years then, at Eton, formed, indeed, a dream of happiness.
When not otherwise particularly engaged, it was my delight, on the instant of coming out of school, or church, to fix my eyes on some distant object, and to start off for it, merely, I suppose, because it was out of bounds. Being constantly in the habit of this, I became acquainted with the localities of the neighbourhood, perhaps more accurately than any other boy at Eton. The two most distant points I ever reached, were Staines and the race-course at Ascot Heath. These excursions I ever undertook in solitude.
It was singular, that one of the most prominent features in the surrounding country should have been nearly the last I attained. This was the spot which must have attracted, one time or another, the attention of every boy: it is that beautiful hill of St. Leonards.
Perhaps the reason that I attained it so late, was, that in these rambles, I preferred crossing the country as the crow flew, and in the present instance, therefore, I must have crossed through the Thames, and it was a long while ere I could prevail upon myself to pass by such a circuitous route as Windsor and the Life Guards' barracks, for an object otherwise comparatively close to me.
About this time, then, I started for and reached it. From that day, I have always thought, that were it in my power to choose a region wherein to spend my days, this should be it. It is the only spot I have yet chanced upon, which, when viewed from the distance, with its details filled up in the imagination, delightfully fulfils and gratifies it to the utmost. What view can be more heavenly, than when we look through and over the tops of the stag-headed oaks, along the valley spread out beneath us, with the Thames winding and glistening in the sun, and the noble castle of Windsor in the horizon, proudly rearing itself into the sky?
Notwithstanding this scene, I had been rather earnestly observing a distant but very lady-like figure walking across the grass, by the side of some rails, and I felt somewhat disappointed, and dissatisfied, when, at length, it vanished among the trees. I was now resting myself at the foot of one, and deeply engrossed in the desultory wanderings of a beetle on the ground, between my feet. I am not conscious how long a time I might have been thus amusing myself, when I was roused by an indistinct rustle close to me, and, on looking up, I saw before me the lady-like figure. In the surprise of the moment, I was possessed with a vague consciousness of some former acquaintance, and in the first impulse, my hand nearly reached my hat, but, in doubt, I withheld it.
She, too, seemed to be in the like predicament, bending slightly with the neck, and I even fancied that her lips moved. The next moment, she had passed on, and I became sensible of the presence of "my little Frogmore girl!"
Could I have the presumption to renew, at this moment, such a brief and casual interview, and so long ago, too? What was I to do! Had she given me a slight token of recognition, or had she not?
At this moment, I am astonished at my determination. In a desperate state of agitation, yet without a chance of wavering, I now rose, and walked along the avenue to overtake her, as she was turning down another to the right. On gaining the corner, I found her a few yards in advance, seated on a bench with several other persons. I at once kept directly down the first avenue without passing her.
Here, at last, then, had I once more met with Miss Curzon! Yet how was she altered! She was now about sixteen, and considerably above the common height of women, and her figure possessed an air of far greater slenderness than when I first met her. Then, too, her hair, which was mostly concealed, was light—now she wore a profusion of it, of a dark and glossy brown. She was in deep mourning.
Every day did I direct my steps to this hallowed spot, but in vain. She had been on a visit, I suppose, and had now left the neighbourhood. But, to my imagination, she was ever present, the last vision at night, and the first in the morning, but I never could dream about her.
Though ever leading a life very much at variance with the established discipline of the college, it was seldom that I was detected; but about this time, though really living in far greater conformity to its rules than usual, it was very hard upon me that I should now meet with a surprising run of ill-luck.
At one time I had become ambitious of exercising the rites of hospitality, which was the more patriotic on my part, as every article of the repast had to be stolen. I had been led on to this expense by a friend presenting me with three bottles of port, which, of course, would need a few biscuits to accompany them; and then I thought of a dessert, and at length ascended to the determination of giving a downright supper.
The brace of partridges, then, and the moor-hen, I shot on the other side of Dorney Common; the milk for the bread-sauce, came as usual from the old black and white cow. The ale, bread, knives and forks, I easily procured from my dame's own supper-table, just before she and the rest of the boys entered the room.
An hour or two after all in the house had gone to bed, my two friends and I had roasted our birds, and enjoyed probably such a meal as we shall never again so much appreciate. Had each of us preferred the partridges, the affair had not gone off so well; but, fortunately, Tyrrel very aptly began to speculate on the virtues of the moor-hen, informing us that it was undoubtedly the highly prized [Greek: ortux] of the early Greeks, but kindly relinquishing his share of it, Kennedy enjoyed the whole of it to himself; for, though I doubted not but that the subject had been classically handled, I obstinately returned to my old opinion relative to the difference between a partridge and a tough old moor-hen. These, then, had been duly respected, and we were sitting round the fire, with the second bottle of port looking rather foolish in front of us, and were wondering at the cannons which were then being fired on Windsor hill, when we were alarmed on hearing somebody coming quickly up the stairs. Having blown out the candles, and put the bottles into my drawer, we each jumped into our beds, but were by no means pleased when the man-servant entered merely to awaken and inform us, that Tim Cannon had won his fight of Josh Hudson, for which great event the guns were then firing, and that, in the joy of his heart, he had got up to claim an even bet of sixpence, which he had made with Kennedy relative to the result.
Such an interruption, under such comfortable circumstances, was enough to ruffle any one's temper; but I was still more distressed on opening the drawer to take out the wine and renew our orgies to discover, that either the cork had not been firmly fixed, or omitted altogether, for there were my shirts and neckcloths almost floating in good old port. At this instant, to add to my dissatisfaction, in walked my dame! The cannons having disturbed her, she had heard the never-to-be-sufficiently-confounded footman run up the stairs, and arisen to ascertain the cause; when, guided by our voices, she now joined our party, an uninvited and unwelcome guest. Indeed, we were hopelessly committed, for getting up and lighting our candles and fires in the middle of the night was a capital offence.
On my dame withdrawing herself, in a lamentable state of distress and disapprobation of our misconduct, we instantly consulted as to what was to be done to deter her from complaining of us to Keate. To assist our councils, we summoned to our aid, "Fitty Willy," properly and feelingly so called from his weakness for epilepsy; nevertheless, he had ever shown great genius for getting into scrapes, and even still greater for extricating himself from their baneful effects. He at once decided, with all the assurance of an old stager, that our only hope was to proceed next morning, in a body, to my dame, and state the dreadful result, should she complain of us, and that we must express the deepest contrition of our delinquency. This, then, the next day, we had actually effected to all intents and purposes; and Kennedy was winding up the business with all the fervour of Irish eloquence, when I unfortunately burst into yells of laughter! This rendered his declamation null and void, and he even gave up the point at once; when my dame, writing a note, immediately dispatched it to head-quarters. To this day do I feel remorse for my martyred fellow-sufferers; for, on the morrow, never were they so punished, if I judge rightly from my own feelings; we were compelled, moreover, to write out fifty lines of Homer every day, for a month to come, and for these I had no "old copies;" but I soon managed to get into another dilemma.
In a weak moment, I had agreed with Kennedy to sham ill and "stay out," the equivalent for which is, as we are too unwell to go into school, we are so, to be out of our houses, and when detected are invariably flogged with extra severity. On these occasions, too, my dame sends a certificate to the master, stating our respective maladies. This time, having merely acquainted her that I felt indisposed, it became incumbent on her to particularise the case, I being totally ignorant of the complaint she was pleased to ascribe to me. Kennedy's complaint was, that he had got a stomach-ach.
We had now before us a long day and a beautiful one besides, and we decided that each should jump into a skiff, and scull to Cliveden, many miles up the river. This we performed in a very satisfactory manner, except that, on our return, just when we were opposite the beautiful little village of Bray, resting on our oars, and responding to each other the alternate verses of that aquatic air, now, I fear, become obsolete, though so full of pathos:
"Oliver and his dear, His dear and Oliver— John Mogs and all his hogs, His hogs and sweet John Mogs— Agnes and her geese, Her geese and sweet Agnes, &c."
I heard a voice close to me on the bank, which, by no means, chimed with the chorus, and the well-known tones of which thrilled to my very soul. There was my tutor, and I was recognised—Kennedy threw himself on his face at the bottom of his boat, and floated away undetected.
This catastrophe, however, prevented us not from landing afterwards at Surly Hall for our cigars and brandy-and-water, where it now became Kennedy's turn to get into a scrape. Owing to the numerous and vociferous applications of the claimants for refreshment, "Mother Hall" is always prudently ensconced in her tap-room, to which the means of communication was through a square hole in the door. On the present occasion, Kennedy, in his impatience, had gone round to a window in her rear. On this quarter she was entirely unguarded; and he had got his head through, and was in the act of securing some biscuits. At the moment, our landlady was absorbed in concocting a bowl of punch; nevertheless, catching a glimpse of the outstretched hand, she flew to the point of attack. Kennedy would have now retreated, had not his ears wedged lightly between the bars, and his head become immoveably fixed, and the next moment the choleric Mother Hall was thumping him on the head with the lemon squeezer. His eloquence, so effective on most occasions, now availed him nothing, and he was seriously tortured. I think he was a little spirit-broken besides, for it was ever after a tender subject with him.
Not having heard from my tutor that evening, I began fondly to hope that, taking into consideration the extent of punishment consequent on such a breach of discipline, he had kindly omitted to take any further notice of the affair.
Neither of us having recovered from our indisposition, we were, of course, "staying out" on the following day, which we had taken very good care should be Friday. Instead, then, of being instructively employed with the tasks of that dreadful day, I was comfortably seated in my room, reading "Quentin Durward," when, alas! its beautiful illusions were dissipated, and I awoke to the painful reality of vulgar life, by being summoned to Keate, now occupied in the middle of eleven o'clock school. Changing, then, my book, and putting my Horace under my arm, I enjoyed the distinction of walking "alone in my glory," up the middle of the school, to Keate's desk.
"Well, Graham, what do you want here?" demanded Keate, in his hurried manner.
This forgetfulness, or perhaps ignorance, on his part, completely disconcerted me; and not wishing to inform against myself, I held my tongue, hoping that some unforeseen chance might yet favour my escape. But the next moment, observing his choler to be rapidly on the increase, I was conscious that this plan would be worse than useless.
"I am staying out, Sir," I at length hinted.
"Staying out, are you! Then you are unwell—yes, you look very ill indeed; pray, what is the matter with you? Tyrrel!" he vociferated, the next moment, "you had better bestow your attention on the place before you in the book, and I will presently examine your knowledge upon the subject—you seem to be very interested in the present one; you're watching, I suppose, to see how your friend Graham can exert his ingenuity in getting off.—Well, Graham?"
"I have taken physic, Sir?"
"Taken physic, have you! Pray, what was it?"
"A pill, Sir," I replied, not very confidently.
"Yes; and I suppose, no doubt, that you judged a quiet row up the river would do you a little good—stay, afterwards—a flogging, perhaps, will have a still better effect."
As luck would have it, I was never, on any occasion, so slightly punished. Keate, though I never knew him to be guilty of an absent fit before, entirely forgot for what he was flogging me, and gave me but the average number. The laugh was certainly on my side, when, just as I had completed my disarranged toilet, he discovered his error. Neither of us could forbear smiling, and he congratulated me on my good fortune.
The detection of my next peccadillo was not followed by such baneful effects. They were now making at Windsor Theatre great preparations for a night, which was to be graced with the presence of his Majesty, who had also kindly condescended to order the tragedy of "Warwick" on the occasion. I had amused myself by going up in the day-time to witness the rehearsals, and otherwise examine into the economy of the stage in general. I also made myself, without any evil intent at the time, entirely conversant with the localities of the place. To draw a full house, Mr. Betty, once the Young Roscius, had been engaged to personate the Earl of Warwick, and admirably he sustained it, too. During the performance, I had crept from the gallery—here always appropriated to the Etonians—through a door which had been purposely made not to appear such, into a place immediately over the stage. Across this space stretch the enormous rollers on which the scenes are wound, but in the recess where I now stood was stored a confused heap of theatrical lumber, such as an enormous gilt lion, a dragon, a collection of clouds, and other curiosities. At first I conjectured that the effect below might be heightened by the dismissal of a few of the clouds, but I feared lest they might dislocate a neck or two. A similar result might have occurred had I cut the ropes of the front scene. At length, I determined merely to launch an enormous dusty carpet on Mr. Betty's devoted head below. Finding this to be far beyond my single strength, I procured three assistants, and, at a given signal, we simultaneously launched it forth.
At that moment the Young Roscius and another star were fascinating the house, when our gigantic bundle, lodging for a moment between the rollers, gradually squeezed through them, and the next, enveloping our victims,
"Turned to groans their roundelay."
This occasioned an uproar throughout the house, and on regaining our seats, "the King-maker" had crept from beneath the mass, leaving Edward IV. still struggling under it: the former, with his moustache, ermine cloak, and other appendages, in pitiable disorder, was now haranguing the audience in the tone of a deeply-injured man. By what means I never could divine, or even suspect, but Mr. Betty arrived at the originator of the deed, and, to avoid more disastrous consequences, I was obliged to call upon him the next day, and promise never to do it again.