Shane Leslie.

The Oppidan online

. (page 1 of 30)
Online LibraryShane LeslieThe Oppidan → online text (page 1 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



(/ '



THE OPPIDAN



THE OPPIDAN

BY

SHANE LESLIE



Obruerint citius scelerata oblivia solera
Quam tuus ex nostro corde recedat honos.

Claudian.



LONDON

CHATTO & WINDUS

1922



TO
E. S. P. HAYNES U ^ 3

AN OPPIDAN TO A L- ^^ ^ ^

COLLEGER



922328



PREFACE

This novel dealing with the Eton of twenty years ago
carries no claim for greater accuracy than is found in a
work of Sir Walter Scott. Historical names and char-
acters may be retained in what is fiction, while the use of
pseudonyms elsewhere does not mean that historical
truth is wholly disguised. Real and false names may
be mingled, a period telescoped, and even anachronisms
strewn among the pages within the scope of one novel.
For the novel should be the means of preserving much that
cannot be conveyed in strictly historical works.

In modern time all specialised spheres of life become
subject to the novelist, though his name be Bungle and
his hall-mark Botch. Within the cosmos are a thousand
worlds. Within the little world of England there are worlds
within worlds, minute in time, unique in space. But to
those who inhabit them they are the world, and to those
who pass from them they remain sacred. The Eton
world is such. Where life becomes stereotyped or tradi-
tional, the material of a novel may be found. The more
restricted, the more difficult and interesting a novel should
become. There is no English novel so technically correct
as Zola's DebBcle, and no British sport has inspired the
accuracy with which Ibanez describes Spanish bull-
fighting. In the absence of the great Cricketing Novel,
which has never been written, the National Institution
called the Public School has been treated some forty
times, not as a whole, but by subdivision into the species



viii THE OPPIDAN

— Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, Shrewsbury, etc. The
field is still open to the Eton novel. Disraeli's account
in Coningshy hardly conveyed more than a veneer of
local colour gathered during a stay with an Eton Tutor.
A novel called The Etonian might with the necessary
changes in vocabulary have just as well been called the
' Harrovian.' A Day of my Life at Eton is the genuine
thing, but no novel. Its humour was successfully in-
tended, but perhaps not its underlying satire. About Some
Fellows is as dull as most sequels. It was, and is, Eton's
misfortune to miss description from a great literary artist.
The father of Thackeray and the son of Dickens were
Etonians, but their great relatives immortalised other and
lesser Schools.

The Public School canvas is certainly limited. There
could be nothing duller than a school novel true to life.
Conversation is as restricted among boys as among clerks,
and by reason of school slang rather less intelligible.
Against the general background the precocious boy
seems more brilliant than he is and less popular than
he deserves. School life can be totally monotonous and
the train of events devoid of plot. Breakage of rules
affords perpetual incident and expulsion the occasional
tragedy. The only conversation of literary interest is
cither priggish or Rabelaisian.

Character again is more discernible among masters than
boys. The boy is moulded to convention and lives in
mild terror of being thought quaint, talented, or pious.
The school novelist finds it necessary to caricature the
worthy masters and to exaggerate the unworthy boys.
Incidents which could only occur at intervals have to be
brought together in quick succession on the chance of
improvising a plot. Instead of boring the reader with the



PREFACE ix

record of twenty excellent Houses at Eton, the failings
attributable to at least three failures have been piled to
illustrate the agony of one. The House described in this
novel is the like of none yet kno\Mi on field or flood.
Disorder, however, is the more attractive theme both to
the novelist and the physician. Disorder in comers
implies the general health, and health (the sane mind in
the sound body) was the ideal of the Eton of Edmond
Warre, which moulded thousands of Etonians living and
dead. It was an athletic and, according to its code, an
honourable tradition, but it levelled more than it elevated.
As long as the world seemed laid specially for the British
Empire, and the Empire to be constructed like a shell
round the Eton kernel, Eton was successful and un-
challenged. The Eton which bred Viceroys and Rulers
could only be compared to the Academy of Noble Ecclesi-
astics in Rome, which affords the Church a nursery of
Cardinals and Nuncios and is based rather on a combina-
tion of breeding and tradition than on a superiority in
brain or morality over less gilded institutions.

It seems impossible that Eton can hold again the
prestige of power she held under Hornby and Warre, who
themselves have become legendary. To have been at
Eton at the turn of the century was to drop into the mould
which their rather narrow genius imposed on the School.
Theirs was an Eton differing as profoundly from the Eton
of Keate and Hawtrey as from the Eton of the future.
Following the feeble interregnum of Balston and Good-
ford, the School fell into the hands of two successive
rulers, whose rule was that of the Philistine and the
Philathlete, but who nevertheless made modem Eton
great. It is not for the novelist to decry the past or
prophesy the future. Eton is subject to evolution, and



X THE OPPIDAN

even her slang has changed as much as her institutions.
Not architecturally only has Eton been much replaced
during the past fifty years. The change in the boys'
language is mysterious and symbolic. No modem Etonian
would dream, for instance, of calling money pec, or a lie
a bung, or a tip a pouch, but no glossarian can date or
explain their obsolescence. Printed boat-hsts, however,
establish the change from Steerer to Cox in the year 1854.
Eton is always evolving. Eton began in the fifteenth
century as a Charity School under Papal benediction, and
her Founder was a late mediaeval saint. When in addition
to his Scholars the Oppidans or ' townboys ' flocked to
share his teaching, Eton became the training-ground of
the Squirearchy and the nurturess of Church and State,
who repaid their nurture in honours and prestige. The
nineteenth century found Eton as rough as a workhouse
school, in College at least, but as intellectual as the Athen-
aeum. Those heroic days were marked by the reign of
Keate.

With the nineteenth century new movements, religious,
athletic, and aesthetic, arose at the Universities, and a
Public School like Eton, which was also part of the national
tradition, might have become the stamping-ground of the
prophet or the prize of the pioneer. Eton might have
become the second home of the Oxford Movement and
given new life to the Church to which she gave Pusey.
As it was, her Bishops passed into Melanesia. She might
have made a political reality of the ' Young England '
movement to which she contributed the brilliant George
Smythe. But Etonians held the two Houses of Parlia-
ment for their class and not for the people. Eton com-
promised in every direction save athletics. Her religion
became neither High nor Low, but remained a splendid



PREFACE xi

possibility. As the Classics slowly fell from their high
estate, the literary promise of earlier days in the century
was stifled. Etonians like Fielding, Shelley, Hallam,
Milman, Kinglake, Leslie Stephen, and Swinburne had
no successors. Hornby did not aim at fine litterateurs,
and Warre was ashamed of Swinburne as an Eton product.
The School touched his ambition of the thousand mark
under his successful reign, but no literary giants were
bred. Arthur Benson and Bridges' poetry, Rosebery and
Curzon's speeches, the novels of Julian Sturgis and Hugh
Benson, the plays of Robert Vansittart and Maurice
Baring, and the satires of Gilbert Frankau fill a lonely
front rank. But on the other hand, the great prizes of
the State fell steadily to Eton. Etonians seemed to
inherit the Empire their forefathers had made. Etonians
were paramount in diplomacy, statecraft, and consulship.
They were commanders of the Army until the Boer War,
which was the climax of Warre's Eton. Never had Eton
borne so great and gory a mantle. With the reign of the
Seventh Edward mihtary and political power began to
be more equably divided with other Schools. The sohd
Eton phalanx which was returned to the Commons in
1900 was considerably dispersed in the Radical sweep of
1906. After Roberts came no Eton Marshal in the field,
and Balfour sounded the knell of the long-held Eton
Premiership. The national Church had already ceased
to appeal to Etonians, whether it was that she seemed to
pay less in one or other of the worlds. Muscular Chris-
tianity had scarcened Etonian clergymen, but the Eton
chentele had been changing with the century. The fine
old yeoman and county family names outdating the
Peerage grew scarcer in the School Lists, while, unfortun-
ately, financial finesse and Semitic snobbery have too



xii THE OPPIDAN

often filled their place. It was perhaps inevitable that
millionaires and magnates of industry, the social adven-
turers, Orientals, and Continentals, should wish their
offspring to share the enviable prestige built up by
landed and leisured gentry during three centuries of Eton
history. A comparison of the modem School Lists with
Austen Leigh's Register during the last half of the eight-
eenth century or Stapylton's nineteenth-century Lists
affords a curious contrast in names. It is for a novelist
to describe and not discuss, but the pious hope may be
permitted that Eton will one day prefer the children of
poor tradesmen and old-fashioned squires as of yore to
Jews, who are ashamed of their race, or Catholics, who
are ashamed of their ONvn Schools. Perhaps Eton is in
transition. Certainly the contrast between mediaeval
and modern Eton could not be greater, if Eton were to
pass w^holly under secular influences, with her Head
Master appointed by each incoming Government, with
H. G. Wells as Chairman of her Governing Body, and the
Chapel in which candles were once burned to the Blessed
Virgin given over to the clouds of chemical work and
the blouse of the w^orkshop ousting the gown of King
Henry's Collegers. Whatever betide her, esto perpetua 1

It only remains to say that, in dealing with a past
period now historical, the names of such as Warre, Hornby,
and Miss Evans have proved too great to pseudonise.
The pseudonyms cover only types and figures, shadows
reconstructed from the past. The cricket matches de-
scribed against Winchester and Harrow are fact, but the
races are fiction. The finale of a fire was a necessity to
any novel of a time, for even a world in flames has not
burnt the recollection of the fire of 1903 out of Eton
memory ; but the site, time, occasion, and victims have



PREFACE xiii

been so altered that no personal identification remains
with the real tragedy. In many ways faulty and distorted,
this book has been written remembering that Eton is
beyond laudation or dispraise. And in any case it reflects
an Eton which has passed away.



CONTENTS



CHAP.

I. ARRIVAL

n. ENTRANCE KXAMINATION

III. CHAPEL INTERLUDE

IV. SUNDAY QUESTIONS
V. SURROUNDINGS

VI. THE LENT HALF .
VII. THE FIRST OF MARCH .
VIII. TRIALS
IX. THE SUMMER HALF
X. VICTORIAN INTERLUDE .
XI. THE EVE OK THE FOURTH
XII. THE FOURTH OF JUNE .

XIII. AFTER THE FOURTH

XIV. WINCHESTER AND HARROW
XV. THE WINTER HALF

XVI. THE NEW CENTURY

XVII. UPPER CHAPEL .

XVIII. WAR AND WORK .

XtX. CHANGE UPON CHANGE

XX. NOCIURNAL

XXI. UPPER DIVISION .

XXII. THE LAG HOUSE .

XXIII. THE GREAT KEYHOLE MYSTERY

XXIV. THE PRIZES OF YOUTH
XXV. THE DOWNFALL .

XXVI. FIRE I ...



1
14

36
45
54
68
82
93
100

119

128
136
144
158
171
184
196
212
224
241
258
275
293
304
324
346



XV



CHAPTER I

ARRIVAL

Paddington Station resembled an iron-wrought hive,
with its glass comb turned uppermost, as Peter Darley
jumped out of a hansom on his initial trip to Eton in
January of 1899. Like giant bees the industrious engines
buzzed in and out, glittering in the winter sunshine, while
an army of tiny drones rushed about the hive in aimless
confusion. Peter had dropped his old nurse in Praed
Street to avoid any appearance of disgraceful company.
He was unsuccessful in his attempt to take a ticket to
Eton. There was no such station, and he was given the
choice of Slough or Windsor.

He had thought that only the Queen took tickets to
Windsor. Slough he only vaguely associated with
Pilgrim's Progress, and the word connoted sudden de-
spond to his mind. ' Well, Slough then,' he told the
booking-clerk. ' First-class, sir ? ' Peter turned, and,
sighting three or four boys in a similar phght, plumped
for first-class. It might be the right thing to do. Officers
were bound to travel first. Perhaps Etonians ought as
well. As he dragged his bag and rug along the platform,
he saw the other boys ensconced in a third-class carriage,
and became confused with shame at his own snobbery.
Thank God, he had avoided a farewell scene with his
nurse.

Alone at last, he pulled some notes out of his pocket
which he had been learning all day. The excitement of
becoming an Etonian at express speed was paid for by
the menace of the Entrance Examination, in which he
stood shortly to disgrace or honour his name, his guardians,

A



2 THE OPPIDAN

the gamekeeper at home, his parents in heaven, and his
nurse sobbing in Pracd Street. These were grave thoughts,
and between the ghmpses of Wormwood Scrubbs and other
glories of suburban seencry connected with God-forsaken
places like Acton and Ealing Broadway he tried to con
some tags of Latin verse. He had been well prepared
during the holidays. The good old mediaeval art of
cheville still flourished among crammers, and Peter had
been provided with a number of poetical phrases warranted
to wind up a Latin hexameter, or set the backbone of a
pentameter, it being well known that a copy of good
Latin verses at Eton covered a multitude of scientific
or grammatical deficiencies. Eton was not a Grammar
School. Peter's wandering Muse had just fitted together
a line which ended —

' dicuntur et Acton et Ealing'

when Slough was called by the porters, and he ceased
the feverish game of trying to make advertisements and
place-names scan according to the rules of prosody. As
he prepared to rush for a cab, his ticket was violently
taken, he was informed he was all right for Windsor, the
door was slammed, and the train was off. His eyes fell
to the left, whence a gigantic dream city, like a picture
he had seen of St. Michael's Mount, swam into his gaze.
Towers and pinnacles, battlements and roofs cut the
horizon as though suspended in the sky, for a light mist
obscured all touch with earth. Like a beetling battle-
ship concentrated under a gigantic turret, from which a
short mast thrust a languid flag into the air, Windsor
Castle burst upon Peter with all the strength of anchored
magnificence revealing itself to travelling youth. Not
imagining this was not his destination, Peter tried to
decipher the Head Master's lodging somewhere in all that
portentous array of stone. Engulfed by the vision, he
never noticed the series of low-built houses set behind a
storm-gapped row of giant elm-trees. Not until the train
had swung over a ridiculous sequence of bricked arches,



ARRIVAL 3

not until the scream of an iron bridge, laid like a crushed
toast-rack over a silver streak of river, had rattled in his
brain, did it dawn upon him that he beheld the Royal
Residence of England, and that Eton must be the cluster
of buildings round the graceful Chapel, which rose like a
shapely, mastless trireme above the billowing trees
farther down the River.

Between the College and the moving train his eye was
caught for a moment by a circular clump of enormous
elms close to the waterside. Farther back stretched the
unending vista of hideous brick arches, presumably
lifting the railway above the possibility of floods from the
River. Tradition laid the arches to a masterful Provost,
who furiously forbade the direct approach. And the
curve represented the railway striving to obey the royal
beckoning from Windsor in spite of the Eton potentate.
Others said that they were erected by the Provost and
Fellows of Eton on the model of a Roman aqueduct as a
visible encouragement to Classical studies.

The train stopped. Peter hopped out and handed his
bag to two porters, who, assisted by a third, found his
luggage and summoned a fly driven by the most villain-
ous-looking flyman Peter had ever seen outside a Cruik-
shank etcliing. ' Drive to Morley's House,' he called out,
proudly conscious that he was an Etonian crossing the
Eton frontier. Annoyingly the flyman took not the
slightest notice, save for a leer, and sat signalling like a
bus conductor for other fares. His gesticulations brought
three others into his net. Three times a year he reaped
an easy and honest harvest by charging double fares
to parties of four boys. New boys were obvious game,
though an older bird would often throw him his legal
fare with an oath that no flyman could equal. Piled
with boxes and boys they ambled forth. Peter found
himself driving up against the Castle walls, but a sharp
turn to the left sent them down the hill of cobbles and
round the mountainous base of the Curfew Tower. The
fljnnan's eyes were fortunately set at the convenient



4 THE OPPIDAN

angle necessary to see round corners while approaching
them.

' 'Anging and tortures in that there winder,' and the
fl}Tiian pointed out with his whip in the direction which
Peter had located from the train as possibly the Head
Master's suite. Another turn to the left. ' This is
Damnation Corner, gents, owing to the trains lost by
gents paying at the toll gate.' As they passed a gloomy
Georgian house planted behind railings up to the street,
the flyman motioned horribly : ' 'Aunted 'Ouse there.
Sign up To Let.' Almost immediately they were on
Windsor Bridge, and the flyman was showing them the
octagon stone kiosk where, till recently, a gatesman had
laid terrible toll on Eton pockets and tempers. ' At last
a gent, knowing the law, broke the curse and drove a
'igh-stepping 'orse slap through and there ain't no toll
since.' The vision of some very perfect Etonian flashed
on Peter's mind, driving full tilt with a light blue ribbon
on his whip before a cheering school. As a matter of fact,
it was a legal-minded shopkeejDcr, a Protestant born out
of due time, who had challenged the toll and freed the
bridge. Let his name be blessed of all who have passed
the bridge in the many years since !

Over Windsor Bridge they lumbered down a street,
which seemed to thrive on the luxuries as well as the
necessities of school life. There was a lishing shop, a
naturalist's, a gunshop, an antiquary, tobacco stores,
and approaching the College that solemn roll well known
to Old Etonians — Ingalton Drake the publisher ; Denman
and Goddard . tailors ; Devereux the hatseller ; Paine the
bootscller ; ^V. V. Brown, and New and Lingwood, fancy
haberdashers and piu'N'cyors of those coloiu-ed caps by
which the status of an Etonian is irrevocably fixed in
this world and in the life to come. Who but a choir-boy
in Bedlam would want to exchange a School-colour for a
halo anyhow ? At the end, on the right, was the lodging
of Tom Brown, a tailor, whose schooldays remained
unending and lucrative. Passing over a Bridge and



ARRIVAL 5

Pool, piously named after Barnes, a deceased confectioner,
they drove into Eton proper. On the left were a succes-
sion of little foodshops and a jeweller. There was the
shop of Rowland devoted to the fleshpots, and Mcyrick,
seller of those pots which only flesh contending against
appetite could win in field or flood.

From Barnes Pool Bridge Peter obtained his first view
of Eton. The road broadened into a triangle out of the
stone-coped railing and branched to right and left of an
island of low white-washed houses which looked neatly
cut out of pasteboard. Gables broke the red roofing,
and odd groups of brick chimneys seemed to have been
added to give them an appearance of height. To the
left the street ran between buildings strung together at
no particular time, and with certainly no consistent plan.
Only their chimneys combined in a feeble rivalry of the
Chapel pinnacles, whose serried order against the skyline
outdistanced the lime-trees stretching across the School
Entrance. The last shop before the boundary stone,
embossed with the College arms, was Clark's, the deadly
rival of Rowland. The strange variety of Eton Houses
followed. With Avondering ej^es the new boys, packed
into the fly, drank in the scene. They had learnt some-
thing of each other's destinations. A well-built, dogged-
faced fellow, Socston, was to accomimny Peter to Morlcy's.
The third announced himself as Lord Charleston of
Miss Evans's House, and a perplexed curiosity came to
Peter, who had hitherto believed that Lords were all
grown up. The fourth confessed with much shame
that he was not an Oppidan, hardly a real Etonian, only
a Colleger, and was not going to any House. His name
was Ullathorne, and he had taken a scholarship the
previous year. Though he was excused the Entrance
Examination, and passed direct into Fifth Form, all three
felt that he was an object of intense pity.

' Morley's ! ' shouted the flyman as he stopped in front
of a tall sham-stucco building that neither resembled a
private house nor a public institute, but was known as the



6 THE OPPIDAN

' gin-palace.' While Socston scrambled out, Peter's eye
fell on the old Churchyard opposite. Dishevelled yews and
iron rods concealed forgotten graves. It was comforting
to have that to fall back on in case of failure in examina-
tions. Rallying himself by hasty reflexion drawn from
the tombs, he prepared to enter the silent house of his
Eton life. It was labelled with the antique legend,
' ERECTED 1844,' displayed as an escutcheon in commemor-
ation of the seventh year of the Victorian era, but for no
other reason particularly, unless to mark the building of
the front of the house, for behind the pretentious exterior
lay vastly inferior specimens of the builder's art. The
strips of Italian plaster concealed a mean rearwork held
up by sloping brick buttresses, that rare accompaniment
of late carpenter's Gothic. But no doubt the date in-
spired parents with a sense of modernness and even
novelty, which had not worn off, though several letters
were damaged and presented a constant inspiration to
catapults over the way. There was a dignified front door,
but the boys used a back door or tunnel to the right that
a self-respecting tradesman might have declined to enter.
As the fly drove on amid promises to meet again, Peter
and Socston groped their way into an atmosphere com-
pounded of darkness and smell, out of which suddenly
shot a gnome-like creature with a geranium-red face and
ears like ship's ventilators, obsessed with a furious desire
to snatch up their luggage in its paws and, pending
Mr. Morley's arrival, to offer an effusive welcome, as well
as a good deal of information useful to young gentlemen
coming to Eton at such an unexpected time of the year
as the end of the holidays. Important was the fact he
promptly confided that old hands tipped him at the
beginning rather than at the end of the half. ' I bet they
wait till the term is over,' ventured Peter. With a purple
convulsion the odd creature replied, ' We call it the 'alf
at Eton, gentlemen, always 'alf.' And for this precious
information each parted with half a cro'svn. The Eton
year is divided into three hahcs, for the same scholastic



ARRIVAL 7

reason, perhaps, that the Charterhouse year is composed
of three quarters.

Willum was one of Mr. Morley's domestic agents, and he
proceeded to convey their kiggage into an inner darkness
illuminated only by his sanguine features. He was polite
and fantastical, combining most of the motions appro-
priate to apoplexy and idiocy. Nothing fitted in his
mortal compost, as he swayed, slipped, or sidled in front
of the new boys in the excitement of bringing them face
to face with Mr. Morley. ' New gentlemen, sir ! ' he
panted as though he had picked them up at the station
like a hotel-tout and expected remuneration per head.
A squat, square figure with bristly moustache and spec-
tacles appeared in the doorway and said decisively, ' Now



Online LibraryShane LeslieThe Oppidan → online text (page 1 of 30)