George William Fisher.

Annals of Shrewsbury School online

. (page 31 of 56)
Online LibraryGeorge William FisherAnnals of Shrewsbury School → online text (page 31 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


1 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i. , Introd. pp. 6-8.

2 See Report of Public School Commission, 1864. "Merit-money" is still in
vogue at Shrewsbury, though it is not highly valued by the boys, and, indeed,
furnishes them not unfrequently with material for the exercise of their sarcasm.

3 Add. MSS. Brit. Mus., 34,583.

4 Butler s Life and Letters, vol. L, Introd. p. 9.

6 Quarterly Review, September, 1842. The writer of the article is said by
Professor Mayor to have been Robert Scott, of Balliol.

6 Btitlers Life and Letters, vol. ii. p. 128.

7 Ibid., vol. ii. p. 129.



SAMUEL BUTLER 307

Dr. Longley, also, who had just resigned Harrow on his
appointment to the See of Ripon, while felicitating Dr. Butler
on his approaching relief from the arduous duties of his
"long and most honourable career," describes it as "dis-
tinguished by a degree of splendour and success unrivalled
in the history of public schools." 1

In spite, however, of the general admiration caused by the
many triumphs gained by Dr. Butler's pupils at the universi-
ties, and the readiness shown by schoolmasters of high position
to learn and adopt his methods, there were some men to be
found at both universities who sneered at his system or
ascribed his success to " cramming."

Dr. Wordsworth, the Master of Trinity College, is said to
have compared Butler's occasional visits to Cambridge to
those made by "a first-rate London milliner to Paris" in
order "to get the fashions." 2 But some Oxford men went
further than this, and, to Dr. Butler's great indignation,
deliberately attributed the success of Shrewsbury boys in
university examinations to special preparation, or in other
words, to cramming? This was at a time when the same
school had just carried off the Ireland university scholarship
five years running, " an unfair monopoly " as it was called by
the detractors of Shrewsbury. It was actually suggested at
Oxford that the nature of the examination for university
scholarships should be changed by the introduction of " essay
writing," and also of additional questions calculated to "elicit
the powers and acquirements of more advanced age and
progress." 4

Some time before this Dr. Butler had been greatly annoyed
when, in two consecutive years, three Shrewsbury boys failed
to obtain a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford,
one of whom gained a scholarship at Exeter College im-
mediately afterwards, and another was subsequently second
Classic at Cambridge. The Corpus scholarships, it must be

1 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. ii. p. 140.

3 Ibid., vol. i., Introd. p. 9.

3 Ibid., vol. ii. p. 34.

4 Ibid., vol. ii. p. 49.



3o8 SHREWSBURY SCHOOL

borne in mind, were not open to general competition, the
candidates for each being confined to one particular county.
Dr. Butler thought at first of making a public attack on the
mode of examination at Corpus, but he wisely abstained
from doing so on the advice of an Oxford tutor, who, while
sympathizing with him in the matter, and describing the
result of the elections to scholarships at Corpus as " painful
to dwell upon and hopeless thoroughly to explain," went on
to attribute it partly to "a faulty but long-established mode
of examination," and partly to "erroneous judgment" It
appears that the only composition set in the Corpus ex-
aminations consisted of Latin verses and English essays.
There was no Latin or Greek prose and no Greek verse. 1

It is not surprising to find that, in the course of the thirty-
eight years which Dr. Butler spent at Shrewsbury, during
which he admitted no less than 1626 boys to the school, the
impression left on the minds of his pupils by his personal
characteristics was not always the same. Mr. Collins 2 says
that some of them regarded their master as " overbearing and
despotic," keeping " even the elder boys a good deal at a
distance" ; and Mr. F. A. Paley, in his Adventures of a School-
boy, describes him as a " stern, pompous, hard-headed pedant,
vain of his knowledge of Greek in which he did excel, as
well as of many other things in which he did not," and
attributes the moral influence which he gained over boys
partly to his "firm authoritative manner," and partly to his
practice of "bullying and brow-beating." 3 But it is quite
evident that the six years which Mr. Paley spent at Shrews-
bury were not happy years, and that he never liked Dr.
Butler. It must be remembered also that when he wrote
his Reminiscences of School Life, fifteen or twenty years after
he had left Shrewsbury, Mr. Paley had become a Roman
Catholic, and regarded all English public schools as "hot-
beds of vice." On both accounts we are entitled to look
upon his evidence as more or less prejudiced, especially when

1 Butler s Life and Letters, vol. i. pp. 376, 385-391 ; and vol. ii. p. I.

2 COLLINS'S notes on "The Public Schools," originally published in Blackwood.

3 Dclmarts Magazine, vol. vi.



SAMUEL BUTLER 309

we contrast with it the high esteem and affectionate regard
in which their old master was held by such men as Robert
Wilson Evans and Robert Scott. Of the genial and cordial
relations which existed, as a rule, between Dr. Butler and
his older pupils, his correspondence with Thomas Smart
Hughes, Marmaduke Lawson, Frederick Jackson, Edward
Massie, Robert Scott, and Thomas Dalrymple is amply
sufficient proof. It is impossible for anyone to study Dr.
Butler's letters to parents and colleagues, often written under
provocative circumstances, without being convinced that he
was equable and forbearing in temper. Dr. Kennedy told
his grandson that he never saw him in a passion. 1 Stories
too have been handed down which testify to the readiness
with which the great Head Master forgave offences of a
comparatively trivial nature. Going into school one day
the Doctor stopped to read some words scribbled on the
wall which had caught his eye. The words were, " Butler
is an old fool." But his only remark on reading them was,
" The melancholy truth stares me in the face." 2

On another occasion, Mr. Collins tell us, Dr. Butler came
upon a small boy "out of bounds" in the town, who took
refuge in a hogshead outside a grocer's shop directly he
saw the Head Master. The latter walked straight up to
the door, and, after tapping the cask all round with his cane,
told the grocer that it was exactly the sort of cask he
wanted, and that he would like it sent up to his house at
once, just as it was. But the fright was the only punishment
which the boy received. Dr. Butler is also said to have
been lenient in cases where the pears and apples in his
own garden had proved too great a temptation to the
younger boys. 3 Certainly he drew a broad distinction
between the furta Laconica, for which he might flog a boy
while he was inwardly laughing, and thefts of a more
serious kind, in an interesting letter which he wrote once
to Dr. Parr. It appears that his two friends, Dr. Parr and

1 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i., Introd. p. 10.

2 Ibid., vol. i., Introd. p. 12.

3 COLLINS'S Public Schools.



310 SHREWSBURY SCHOOL

Dr. Maltby, had urgently pressed him to receive at Shrews-
bury a boy who had been dismissed from another public
school for stealing, and in his reply Dr. Butler, while re-
luctantly refusing to comply with the request of his friends,
entered somewhat fully into the general subject. The pith
of his letter is embodied in the neat epigram, " Pickle boys
rob an orchard but scorn to steal a shilling." 1 Little has
been said by Dr. Butler's pupils as to any influence exer-
cised over them in religious matters by his instruction in
school or chapel, or through direct personal intercourse with
him. That some of the elder boys were well acquainted
with their master's dislike of Calvinism is evident from an
amusing letter written by Marmaduke Lawson soon after
he went up to Cambridge. The passage is worth quoting
as a specimen of Lawson's somewhat American humour.
" I stayed Sunday at Leicester, where I heard the cele-
brated Robinson preach on ... faith and works. . . . He
said anyone who thought any works or any human per-
formances could have the least effect towards his salvation
was instigated by the devil. Towards the close he mani-
fested some strong Calvinistic symptoms"*

Long after these days, when Dr. Butler's biographer tried
to get from Dr. Kennedy some account of his predecessor's
religious views, all that he would say was, " He did not like
an evangelical." 3 Shortly after Dr. Butler's death one of his
most attached pupils, Robert Wilson Evans, wrote a touching
letter to his old master's son, in which he spoke in grateful
terms of the care which Dr. Butler had always taken, not
only to inculcate critical accuracy and to inform his pupils
with the body of ancient literature, but to infuse a lively

1 See Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 187. It is possible that
Dr. Butler did not take a sufficiently severe view of these furta Laconica.
Hardly a year before he wrote this letter to Dr. Parr " knobbling " seems
to have been a very common offence in the school. Mrs. Butler, writing to
her husband on December 2oth, 1820, says that one of the boys had told her
that "knobbling had got so common" no boy could keep a book if he laid
it down for a moment, and he and Tom Butler had each lost two hats in the
course of the half-year. (Add. MSS. Brit. Mus., 34,584-)

2 ButleSs Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 77.

3 Ibid., vol. i. p. 70.



SAMUEL BUTLER 311

spirit and delicate taste as also of his constant readiness to
counsel and befriend in after life those who had been under
his charge at school. But Mr. Evans makes no allusion to
any religious influence exercised over the minds of his
Shrewsbury pupils by Dr. Butler. 1 Certainly the letter
which the Head Master wrote to the school trustees in 1812,
urging that he should be allowed to have service in chapel on
Sundays instead of taking the boys to St. Mary's Church,
seems to show that he was partly influenced in desiring to
make the change by the belief that he would thus gain
additional opportunities of giving them suitable religious
instruction. 2 But the sermons which he preached at the
afternoon service in chapel, after that service had received the
sanction of the trustees, are described as frequently consisting
mainly of a review of the chief offences of the past week,
with stern lectures of the unconvicted offenders who had
been stealing ducks, breaking the farmers' fences, or riding
their horses bare-backed in an impromptu steeple-chase. 3
The practice of using the chapel as a school-room cannot
have been calculated to make the boys feel much reverence,
either for the building itself or for the services which were
held there. We are told, indeed, that they spent their time,
when waiting for the arrival of the masters before morning
chapel, in playing cricket or leap-frog, and that they
employed themselves during the service in learning their
lessons. 4 Mr. Paley says that during the seven years he
was at Shrewsbury he knew of no boy attending holy
communion either in church or chapel, and his statement
is practically confirmed by Dr. Kennedy's evidence before
the Public School Commissioners. The story told about
Bishop Blomfield's visit to Shrewsbury, and his remonstrance
with Dr. Butler for sharpening his pencil while the service
was still going on in chapel, must also be regarded as
somewhat significant. 5 It is a noticeable fact that, in the

1 Butler's Life and Letters ', vol. ii. p. 365.
~ Ibid., vol. i. p. 82.

3 See COLLINS'S Public Schools.

4 See "Adventures of a Schoolboy" in Dolman's Magazine ^ vol. vi.

5 Butlers Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 161.



312 SHREWSBURY SCHOOL

letters of advice which he wrote to his old pupil when
beginning work at Shrewsbury in 1798, Dr. James, although
advocating Greek Testament lessons and the use of Watts's
Scripture History, recommended that Sunday lessons, if
given at all, should be "short and easy," and expressed his
opinion that he would "soon find the comfort of a clear
holiday on a Sunday/' 1

The Shrewsbury Head Master was probably influenced by
this advice when he determined to give the boys a " long
lie" on Sunday mornings, and confine the religious in-
struction on that day to an afternoon lesson. At this lesson
it was the custom in 1818 to examine the sixth and fifth
forms in Prety man's Theology or Seeker's Lectures, the fourth
form in Watts's Scripture History, and the rest of the school
in the Church Catechism. 2 Good man as Dr. Butler un-
doubtedly was, 3 he seems to have been somewhat of a
pessimist as to the possibility of bringing direct religious
influences to bear on boys in public schools. The intense
dislike also which he shared with Dr. Samuel Parr, Dr.
Maltby, the Rev. Henry Drury, and other intimate friends,
of the religious system called " Evangelical," which was so
widely prevalent early in this century, had probably some
effect in making him shrink from anything that might
induce people to regard him as its upholder. 4

To one of the offences which Dr. Butler used to de-
nounce in chapel, duck stealing, Shrewsbury boys seem to
have been specially addicted. Allusions to it are common

1 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i. pp. 25-37.

2 CARLISLE'S Endowed Grammar Schools,

3 No one can read Dr. Butler's Life and Letters without feeling convinced,
not only of his faith in the revealed truths of Christianity, but also of his loving
spirit, his unfailing sympathy, his intense regard for truth, his unostentatious
generosity, his humble-mindedness, and his power of self-control. His own
letters, as well as the testimony of his friends, bear witness to the patient en-
durance with which he submitted himself to the illness and sufferings of his later
years.

4 It is probable that Dr. Kennedy had his predecessor in mind when he
ascribed the reluctance of schoolmasters before Arnold's time to attempt anything
more than a very sparing use of religious influences, when dealing with their boys,
to a conscientious "fear to profane holy things or to promote hypocrisy."
Evidence in Report of Public School Commission.



SAMUEL BUTLER 313

in the reminiscences of his old pupils, and sometimes it seems
to have been carried on in most artistic fashion by means of
a line with baited hook that the boys would throw over the
farm-yard walls. An amusing story is told of the horror
of a farmer's wife when she saw one of her ducks stagger
helplessly across the farm-yard, dance airily up a perpendi-
cular wall, and disappear on the opposite side. 1 One of the
anecdotes told by Mr. Paley of his school-days includes an
illegal boating expedition, a successful duck hunt, a ducking
of another sort due to the tug-rope of a barge, and a subse-
quent flogging. 2 Another allusion to the practice is found
in a letter written to Dr. Butler in 1823 by a former pupil
who was living in Shrewsbury, and was a candidate for the
curacy of St. Mary's Church. The writer, who was under the
impression that in some way he had been disparaged by
Dr. Butler, appeals to his old master to acknowledge that,
although he had been a duck stealer when he was at school,
he was not destitute of " some shreds and patches of
honour." 3

It seems strange in the present day that Dr. Butler, a man
whose judgment in most matters was so sound, and who
certainly had a good deal of sympathy with the high spirits
and love of adventure common to boys, should not have
encouraged the natural safety-valve which is provided for
them by athletic amusements like cricket and football and
boating. But football he denounced as "only fit for butcher
boys," and in his early years at Shrewsbury it was absolutely
prohibited. In Lord Cranbrook's time, 1827-1830, it appears
to have been played by stealth, 4 and there are still living
Salopians who remember the difficulty they had when they
wanted to play football in finding a field where they were
not likely to be interrupted. Against boating too, during
the greater part of his career, Dr. Butler waged continual

1 Butler* s Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 308.

2 "Adventures of a Schoolboy," Dolmans Magazine > vol. vi.

3 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 307.

4 See his speech at the opening of the new school buildings on July 28th,
1882.



314 SHREWSBURY SCHOOL

warfare ; and the younger boys who ventured on the Severn
often paid for their enjoyment with a flogging. 1 He even
threatened Mr. Harwood, the boat proprietor, with divers
pains and penalties if he allowed the boys to hire his boats,
and got the Mayor of Shrewsbury to back him up in the
matter. On one occasion, when he was denouncing to the
boys the practice of boating, with the slight hesitancy which
is said to have been habitual with him when pretending to
be more angry than he really was, he declared that " if the
men let the boys have boats" he would "have them up
before the magistrates." Richard Shilleto, who was then at
school, wrote on a slip of paper the following lines, which he
placed quietly on the Doctor's desk :

" Quando velint homines pueris conducere cymbas,
Ante magistratus Butler habebit eos."

" Psha, boy, psha," was all the Doctor said, but he carefully
folded the paper and put it in his pocket. 2 Almost to the end
of Dr. Butler's head-mastership boating was carried on as a
forbidden sport, and if a master was seen on the banks or
towing-path when the boys were on the river they used to

1 Butler's Life and Letter s^ vol. i. p. 235.

3 Butler's Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 235. A still better example of the
delight Dr. Butler took in a humorous composition is furnished by a story which
he himself told to a clergyman in the Archdeaconry of Derby. The sixth
form had been reading the Calydonian Boar Hunt> and some of them, with
their minds still full of the subject, got up a boar hunt on their own account
after school on the same day with a sow and a litter of small pigs, chasing
them about till they were half dead with fright and exhaustion. The farmer
who owned them was naturally very angry, and said he would go off at once
to complain to the Doctor. But one of the party managed to get back to
the schools before the farmer arrived, and was ready to receive him, attired
in the Doctor's cap and gown. Then, having gravely listened to the story
and asked for the names or descriptions of some of the boys implicated, the
sham Doctor assured the complainant that he would "flog the very life out
of them." The farmer went away satisfied, and not long afterwards the boy
who had personated the Head Master presented him with a copy of verses in
which the whole story was related. Dr. Butler was so delighted with the
composition that he gave the sixth an extra. If the Hon. Lewis Denman,
who heard the story from the clergyman to whom Dr. Butler told it, be
right in ascribing the verses to John Thomas, a future Craven scholar of
Wadham College, Oxford, the Shilleto incident must belong to much the same
time, as Thomas and Shilleto were school contemporaries.



SAMUEL BUTLER 315

shirk him by pulling their jackets over their heads. 1 The
only objection which Dr. Butler seems to have had to boating
arose out of his fears that the boys might be drowned ; but
unfortunately it never seems to have occurred to him to try
the plan of simply prohibiting from boating all boys who
could not swim, a prohibition which the praepostors would
doubtless have been glad to enforce. Cricket was not for-
bidden, but does not seem to have met with any special
encouragement. Two ball courts there were at the back
of the second master's house where bat fives was played,
an excellent game, which was also in vogue at the Charter-
house in old days, and probably elsewhere, but which is
now a thing of the past. But the ball courts were chiefly
noted as the place where the boys were accustomed to settle
their disputes with their fists. In a letter to a parent, dated
July loth, 1820, Dr. Butler expresses his opinion that "the
disputes of boys are best settled among themselves," and
that "when two boys quarrel, though battles ought not to
be encouraged, perhaps the most desirable thing is that they
should settle it between themselves by a trial of mastery,
which generally puts a stop to all further squabbles." He
adds, however, that "no master can either say this or
encourage it" 2 But somehow or other the boys seem to
have understood the Head Master's real feelings on the
subject, and were even under the impression that he some-
times witnessed their fights from one of his windows. At
any rate, the proceedings met with no interruption till
9 a.m., when " John Bandy " used invariably to appear
to dismiss the assembly. 3 This John Bandy, who was in
Dr. Butler's service all the time he was at Shrewsbury,
either as butler or porter, was a notable character among
the boys. When carrying away the tin candlesticks at

1 See report of speeches at the opening of the new school buildings in 1882.
Lord Cranbrook, who left school in 1830, is the authority for this statement.
But, as the Rev. Edgar Montagu, who was at Shrewsbury from 1830 to 1838,
is confident that boating was allowed in his time, we may take it that soon
after 1830 Dr. Butler ceased to use any active measures to prevent the practice.

2 Butlers Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 193.

3 "Adventures of a Schoolboy," Dolman's Magazine, vol. vi.



316 SHREWSBURY SCHOOL

night from their bedrooms he used to take special pride
in stringing them all on the fingers of one hand. 1 It is
said that there was a strong personal resemblance between
the Head Master and John Bandy, and that the boys would
frequently call out when the latter passed, " Like master,
like man." Mr. Paley goes so far as to declare that when
he was brought to school for the first time by his mother,
who was a sister of Mrs. Butler, but had not seen her
brother-in-law for twenty years, she mistook John Bandy
for the Head Master, and gave him a sisterly salute. 2 Dr.
Butler did not take his old servant with him when he went to
Eccleshall, and, according to Mr. Gretton, John Bandy died
of grief. 3

The name of another domestic of Dr. Butler's has come
down to posterity in connection with an amusing mistake
she once made through a not inexcusable ignorance of
Greek. This was Dinah, the matron in Doctor's hall, who
lodged a formal complaint against the whole of the sixth
form for coupling her name all the afternoon, both in their
common room and in their studies, with very bad language,
very bad indeed, though she did not understand the words.
The Doctor, in great indignation, summoned the offenders
to his study. But when he learned that the bad language
was Greek, and that the subject of next day's repetition
lesson was the Chorus of the CEdipus Rex, in which comes
the line " AEINA /*ei/ ovv, AEINA ra/oao-o-a o-o0o? oiowoOeras"
which the boys had been shouting out, and all the more
vociferously when they understood Dinah's delusion, the
joke was too much for him and he burst into a paroxysm of
laughter. 4 Another school notability in those days was Mrs.
Bromfield, who had been nurse to Dr. Butler's children, and
was afterwards made matron of the boarding-house which he
opened in 1 826. She was known to the boys as " Brommy "

1 Memory's Harkback, by the Rev. F. E. GRETTON.

3 "Adventures of a Schoolboy," Dolman 's Magazine, vol. vi.

3 When the porter's lodge was set up at the top of School Lane in 1826 John
Bandy appears to have been installed in it as porter. But he probably continued
to act as the Head Master's butler as well until Dr. Butler left Shrewsbury.

4 COLLINS'S Public Schools.



SAMUEL BUTLER 317

and has been immortalised by Dr. Butler's biographer as the
coiner of one of the longest words known in the English
language. Coming into the hall one night when the boys were
very noisy, she singled out the chief offender and told him he
was the " rampingest-scampingest-rackety-tackety-tow-row-
roaringest boy in the house." Then pausing for a moment,
she looked triumphantly round the hall and added, " Young
gentlemen, prayers are excused." 1 A delightful letter from
Miss Butler to her brother, when he was an undergraduate
at Cambridge, says a good deal about "Brommy's" super-
stitions as to dreams, and also mentions her nai've
expression of hope that a new master, who had not been at
first very successful in disciplinary matters, would "soon
be as great a beast " as herself. 2 In Dr. Butler's corre-
spondence with his old pupils we find occasional allusions
to " Speech Day " at Shrewsbury, and it is probable, from
the various inquiries which he made on the subject from



Online LibraryGeorge William FisherAnnals of Shrewsbury School → online text (page 31 of 56)