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lioiicn by his nephew (the I fon. and l\c\-. W. V.. Ildwen) has appeared.
Some f)f his (too few) essays and a collection of his school -songs are
appended to it.


344- Biographical Studies

their most capable graduates as assistant teachers ;
and some of the strongest men among these
graduates have never, from various causes, and
often because they preferred to remain laymen,
been" raised to the headships of the schools.
Every one knows that a school depends for its
wellbeing and success more largely on the assist-
ants'^ taken together than it does on the head-
master. Most people also know that individual
assistant masters are not unfrequently better
scholars, better teachers, and more influential
with the boys than is their official superior. Yet
the'^'assistant masters have remained unhonoured
and unsung in the general chorus of praise of the
great schools which has been resounding over
England for nearly two generations.

Edward Bowen was all his life an assistant
master, and never cared to be anything else. As
he^had determined not to take orders in the Church
of England, he was virtually debarred from many
of the chief headmasterships, which are, some few
of them by law, many more by custom, confined
to Anglican clergymen. But even when other
headships to which this condition was not attached
were known to be practically open to his accept-
ance, were, indeed, in one or two instances almost
tendered to him, he refused to become a candidate,
preferring his own simple and easy way of life
to the pomp and circumstance which conven-
tion requires a headmaster to maintain. This

Edward Bowen 345

abstention, however, did not prevent his eminence
from becoming known to those who had oppor-
tunities of judging. In his later years he would,
I think, have been generally recognised by the
teaching profession as the most brilliant, and in
his own peculiar line the most successful, man
among the schoolmasters of Britain.

He was born on 30th March 1836, of an Irish
family (originally from Wales) holding property
in the county of Mayo. His father was a clergy-
man of the Church of England ; his mother,
who survived him a few months (dying at the
age of ninety -four) and whom he tended with
watchful care during her years of widowhood,
was partly of Irish, partly of French extraction.
Like his more famous but perhaps not more
remarkable elder brother, Charles Bowen. who
became Lord Bowen, and is remembered as
one of the most acute and subtle judges as
well as one of the most w^'nning personalities
of our time, he had a gaiety, wit, and versatility
which suggested the presence of Celtic blood.
He was educated at Blackheath School, and
afterwards at King's College in London, whence
he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge.
In i860, after a career at the University, dis-
tinguished both in the way of honours and in
respect of the reputation he won among his
contemporaries, he became a master at Harrow,
and thenceforth remained there, leading an

34^ Biographical Studies

uneventful and externally a monotonous life,
but one full of unceasing and untiring activity
in play and work. He died on Easter Monday
1 90 1.

Nothing could be less like the traditional
Arnoldine methods of teaching and ruling boys
than Bowen's method was. The note of those
methods was what used to be called moral
earnestness. Arnold was orrave and serious,
distant and awe-inspiring, except perhaps to a
few specially favoured pupils. Bowen was light,
cheerful, vivacious, humorous, familiar, and, above
all things, ingenious and full of variety. His
leading principles were two that the boy must
at all hazards be interested in the lessons and
that he should be at ease with the teacher.

A Harrow boy once said to his master,
" I don't know how it is, sir, but if Mr. Bowen
takes a lesson he makes you work twice as hard
as other masters, but you like it twice as much
and you learn far more." He was the most
unexpected man in conversation that could be
imagined, always giving a new turn to talk by
saying something that seemed remote from the
matter in hand until he presently showed the
connection. So his teaching kept the boys
alert, because its variety was inexhaustible. He
seemed to think that it did not greatly matter
what the lesson was so long as the pupil could be
got to enjoy it. The rules of the school and the

Edward Bowen 347

requirements of the examinations for which boys
had to be prepared would not have permitted
him to try to any great extent the experiment
of varying subjects to suit individual tastes ; but
he was fond of giving lessons in topics outside
the regular course, on astronomy for instance, of
which he had acquired a fair knowledge, and on
recent military history, which he knew wonderfully
well, better probably than any man in England out-
side the military profession. When the so-called
"modern side" was established at Harrow, in 1869,
he became head of it, having taken this post, not
from any want of classical taste and learning,
for he was an admirable scholar, and to the
end of his life wrote charming Latin verses, but
because he felt that this line of teaching needed
to be developed in a school which had been for-
merly almost wholly classical. For grammatical
minutiae, for learning rules by heart, and indeed
for the old style of grammar-teaching generally,
he had an unconcealed contempt. He thought it
unkind and wasteful to let a boy go on puzzling
over difficulties of lanpfuafje in an author, and
permitted, under restrictions, the use of English
translations, or (as boys call them) ''cribs."
Teaching was in his view a special gift ot
the individual, which depended on the aptitude
for getting hold of the pupil's mind, and
enlisting his interest in the subject. He
had accordingly no faith in the doctrine that

34^ Biographical Studies

teaching is a science which can be systematically-
studied, or an art in which the apprentice ought to
be systematically trained. When he was sum-
moned as a witness before the Secondary Educa-
tion Commission in 1894 he adhered, under cross-
examination, to this view (so far as it affected
schools like Harrow or Eton), refusing to be
moved by the arguments of those among the
Commissioners who cited the practice of Germany,
where Padagogik, as they call it, is elaborately
taught in the universities. " I am unable," he said,
"to conceive any machinery by which the art of
teaching can be given practically to masters. That
art is so much a matter of personal power and ex-
perience, and of various social and moral gifts,
that I cannot conceive a good person made a good
master by merely seeing a class of boys taught,
unless he was allowed to take a real and serious
part in it himself, unless he became a teacher him-
self. I can understand that at a primary school you
can learn by going in and hearing a good teacher at
work ; but the teaching of a class of older boys is
so different, and has so much of the social element
in it, and it may vary so much, that I should
despair of teaching a young man how to take a
class unless he was a long time with me. ... A
master at a large public school is chiefly a moral
and social force ; a master is this to a much less
extent at a primary school or in the ordinary day-
schools, the grammar-schools of the country. To

Edward Bowen 349

deal with boys when you have them completely
under your control for the whole of every day is
an altogether different thing, and requires different
virtues in the teacher from those that are required
in the case of day-schools."

Bowen may possibly have been mistaken, even
as regards the teachers in the great public board-
ing schools. His view seems to overlook or
disregard that large class of persons who have no
marked natural aptitude for teaching, but are cap-
able of being, by special instruction and supervised
practice, kneaded and moulded into better teachers
than they would otherwise have grown to be. He
felt so strongly that no one ought to teach without
having a real gift and fondness for teaching that
he thought such difference as training could make
insignificant in comparison with the inborn talent.
Perhaps he generalised too boldly from himself,
for he had an enjoyment of his work, and a con-
scientiousness in always putting the very best of
himself into it how much was conscientiousness
and how much was enjoyment, no one could tell
as well as a quickness and vivacity which no
study of methods could have improved. As one
of his most eminent colleagues,^ who was also his
life-long friend, observes: "The humdrum and
routine which must form so large a part of a
teacher's life were never humdrum or routine to
him, for he put the whole of his abounding

' Mr. K. Bo^worlh Smiib..

350 Biographical Studies

energies into his work, and round its driest details
there played and flickered, as with a lambent
flame, his joyous spirit, finding expression now
perhaps in a striking parallel, now in a startling
paradox, now in a touch of humour, and once
again in a note of pathos."

The personal influence he exerted on the boys
who lived in his House was quite as remarkable
as his "form - teaching." Stoicism and honour
were the qualities it was mainly directed to form.
Every boy was expected to show manliness and
endurance, and to utter no complaint. Where
physical health was concerned he was indulgent ;
his House was the first which gave the boys meat
at breakfast in addition to tea with bread and
butter. But otherwise the discipline was Spartan,
though not more Spartan than that he prescribed
to himself, and the House was trained to scorn the
slightest approach to luxury. Arm-chairs were
forbidden except to sixth -form boys. A pupil
relates that when Bowen found he was in the habit
of taking two hot baths a week the transgression
was reproved with the words : " Oh boy, that's
like the later Romans, boy." His maxims were :
" Take sweet and bitter as sweet and bitter come "
and " Always play the game." He never preached
to the boys or lectured them ; and if he had to
convey a reproof, conveyed it in a single sentence.
But he dwelt upon honour as the foundation of
character, and made every boy feel that he was

Edward Bovven 351

expected to reach the highest standard of truth-
fulness, courage, and duty to the Httle community
of the House, or the cricket eleven, or the football

Some have begun to think that in English
schools and universities too much time is given to
athletic sports, and that they absorb too largely
the thoughts and interests of the English youth.
Bowen, however, attached the utmost value to
games as a training in character. He used to
descant upon the qualities of discipline, good-
fellowship, good-humour, mutual help, and post-
ponement of self which they are calculated to
foster. Though some of his friends thought that
his own intense and unabated fondness for these
games for he played cricket and football up to
the end of his life might have biassed his judg-
ment, they could not deny that the games ought
to develop the qualities aforesaid.

" Consider the habit of being in public, the for-
bearance, the subordination of the one to the many,
the exercise of judgment, the sense of personal
dignity. Think again of the organising faculty that
our games develop. Where can you get command
and obedience, choice with responsibility, criticism
with discipline, in any degree remotely approaching
that in which our social games supply them ?
Think of the partly moral, partly physical side of it,
temper, of course, dignity, courtesy. . . . When the
match has really begun, there is education, there

352 Biographical Studies

is enlargement of horizon, self sinks, the common
good is the only good, the bodily faculties ex-
hilarate in functional development, and the make-
believe ambition is glorified into a sort of ideality.
Here is boyhood at its best, or very nearly at its
best. Surs2mt criLra / . . . When you have a lot
of human beings, in highest social union and
perfect organic action, developing the law of their
race and falling in unconsciously with its best
inherited traditions of brotherhood and common
action, you are not far from getting a glimpse of
one side of the highest good. There lives more
soul in honest play, believe me, than in half the

These words, taken from a half-serious essay on
Games written for a private society, give some part
of Bowen's views. The whole essay is well worth
reading.^ Its arguments do not, however, quite
settle the matter. The playing of games may have,
and indeed ought to have, the excellent results
Bowen claimed for it, and yet it may be doubted
whether the experience of life shows that boys so
brought up do in fact turn out substantially more
good-humoured, unselfish, and fit for the commierce
of the world than others who have lacked this train-
ing. And the further question remains whether the
games are worth their costly candle. That they
occupy a good deal of time at school and at college
is not necessarily an evil, seeing that the time left

1 It is printed in the Life.

Edward Bowen 353

for lessons or study is sufficient if well spent.
The real drawback incident to the excessive
devotion games inspire in our days is that they
leave little room in the boy's or collegian's mind
either for interest in his studies or for the love
of nature. They fill his thoughts, they divert
his ambition into channels of no permanent value
to his mind or life ; they continue to absorb his
interest and form a large part of his reading long
after he has left school or college. Neverthe-
less, be these things as they may, the opinion
of a man so able and so experienced as Bowen
was, deserves to be recorded ; and his success in
endearing himself to and guiding his boys was
doubtless partly due to the use he made of their
likino" for Q-ames.

He was never married, so the school became
the sole devotion of his life, and he bequeathed to
it the bulk of his property, directing an area of
land which he had purchased on the top of the
Hill to be always kept as an open space for the
benefit of boys and masters.

It need hardly be said that he loved boys as
he loved teachino-. He took them with him in
the holidays on walking tours. He kept u[) cor-
respondence with many of his pupils after the)'
left Harrow, and advised them as occasion rose.
To many of them he remained through life the
model whom they desired to imitate. I>ut he

was very chary of the exercise of inlluence. " A

2 A

354 Biographical Studies

boy's character," he once wrote, "grows hke the
Temple of old, without sound of mallet and
trowel. What we can do is to arrange matters
so as to give Virtue her best chance. We can
make the right choice sometimes a little easier,
we can prevent tendencies from blossoming into
acts, and render pitfalls visible. How much in-
directly and unconsciously we can do, none but
the recording angel knows. * You can and you
should,' said Chiffers,^ *go straight to the heart of
every individual boy.' Well, a fellow -creature's
mind is a sacred thing. You may enter into that
arcanum once a year, shoeless. And in the effort
to control the spirit of a pupil, to make one's own
approval his test and mould him by the stress of
our own presence, in the ambition to do this, the
craving for moral power and visible guiding, the
subtle pride of effective agency, lie some of the
chief temptations of a schoolmaster's work."

Such ways and methods as I have endeavoured
to describe are less easy to imitate than those
which belong to the Arnoldine type of school-
master. In Bowen's gaiety, in his vivacity, in the
humour which interpenetrated everything he said
or did, there was something individual. Teachers
who do not possess a like vivacity, versatility, and
humour cannot hope to apply with like success
the method of familiarity and sympathy. Not
indeed that Bowen stood altogether alone in his

1 " Chifiers " is the typical would-be imitator of Arnold.

Edward Bowen 355

use of that method. There were others among
his contemporaries who shared his view, and whose
practice was not dissimilar. He was, however, the
earhest and most brilh'ant exponent of the view,
so his career may be said to open a new hne, and
to mark a new departure in the teacher's art.

I have mentioned his walkinof tours. He
was a pedestrian of extraordinary force, rather
tall, but spare and light, swift of foot, and tire-
less in his activity. As an undergraduate he
had walked from Cambridge to Oxford, nearly
ninety miles, in twenty-four hours, scarcely halt-
ing. At one time or another he had traversed
on foot all the coast-line and great part of the
inland regions of England. He was an accom-
plished Alpine climber. His passion for exercise
of body as well as of mind was so salient a
feature in his character that his friends wondered
how he would be able to support old age. He
was spared the trial, for he was gay and joyous as
ever on the last morning of his life, and he died
in a moment, while mounting his bicycle after a
long ascent, among the lonely forests of Burgundy,
then bursting into leaf under an April sun.

His interest in politics provided hini with
a short and strenuous interlude of public action,
which varied the even tenor of his life at 1 1 arrow.
At the general election of 1880 he stood as a
candidate for the little borough of Hertford (which
has since been merged in the coLinty) against

35^ Biographical Studies

Mr. Arthur Balfour, now (1902) First Lord of the
Treasury in England. The pro- Turkish policy
of Lord Beaconsfield, followed by the Afghan
War of 1878, had roused many Liberals who
usually took little part in political action. Bowen
felt the impulse to denounce the conduct of the
Ministry, and went into the contest with his usual
airy suddenness. He had little prospect of suc-
cess at such a place, for, like many of the so-called
Academic Liberals of those days, he made the
mistake of standing for a small semi-rural con-
stituency, overshadowed by a neighbouring mag-
nate, instead of for a large town, where both his
opinions and his oratory would have been better
appreciated. However, he enjoyed the contest
thoroughly, amusing himself as well as the electors
by his lively and sometimes impassioned speeches,
and he looked back to it as a pleasant episode in
his usually smooth and placid life. He was all his
life a strong Liberal vieille roc/ie, a lover of free-
dom and equality as well as of economy in public
finance, a Free Trader, an individualist, an enemy
of all wars and all aggressions, and in later years
growingly indignant at the rapid increase of
military and naval expenditure. He was also,
like the Liberals of 1850-60 in general, a sym-
pathiser with oppressed nationalities, though this
feeling did not carry him the length of accept-
ing the policy of Home Rule for Ireland, as
to which he had grave doubts, yet doubts not

Edward Bo wen 357

quite so serious as to involve his separation from
the Liberal party. Twice after 1880 he was on
the point of becoming a candidate for a seat in
the House of Commons, but whether his love for
Harrow would have suffered him to remain in
Parliament had he entered it may be doubted. One
could not even tell whether he was really disap-
pointed that his political aspirations remainedunful-
filled. Had he given himself to parliamentary life,
his readiness, ingenuity, and wit would have soon
made him valued by his own side, while his sincerity
and engaging manners would have commended
him to both sides alike. His delivery was always
too rapid, and his voice not powerful, yet these
defects would have been forgotten in the interest
which so peculiar a figure must have aroused.

His peace principles contrasted oddly with
his passion for militar)' history, a passion which
prompted many vacation journeys to battlefields
all over Europe, from Salamanca to Austerlitz.
He had followed the campaigns of Napoleon
through Piedmont and Lombardy, through Ger-
many and Austria, as well as those of Wellington
in Spain and Southern P'rance.^ This taste is
not uncommon in men of peace. Freeman had
it ; J. R. Green and S. R. Gardiner had it ; and
the historical works of Sir George Trevelyan

' lie remarked once that he had so r.early exliaustcd the l>atllerield.s
of the past that he must ])et^in to devote liimsdf to the battlefields of the

358 Biographical Studies

and Dr. Thomas Hodgkin prove that it Hves in
those genial breasts also. It was a pleasure to
be led over a battlefield by Bowen, for he had
a good eye for ground, he knew the movements
of the armies down to the smallest detail, and he
could explain with perfect lucidity the positions of
the combatants and the tactical moves in the game.

Twice only did he come across actual fighting,
once at Dtippel in 1864, during the Schleswig-
Holstein war, and again in Paris during the siege
of the Communards bv the forces that obeved
Thiers and the Assembly sitting at Versailles.
He maintained that the Commune had been un-
fairly judged by Englishmen, and wrote a singu-
larly interesting description of what he saw while
risking his life in the beleaguered city. There
was in him a great spirit of adventure, though the
circumstances of his life gave it little scope.

Travel was one of his chief pleasures, but it
was, if possible, a still greater pleasure to his
fellow-travellers, for he was the most agreeable
of companions, fertile in suggestion, candid in
discussion, swift in decision. He cared nothing
for luxury and very little for comfort : he was
absolutely unselfish and imperturbably good-
humoured ; he could get enjoyment out of the
smallest incidents of travel, and his curiosity to
see the surface of the earth as well as the cities
of men was inexhaustible. He loved the un-
expected, and if one had written proposing an

Edward Bowen 359

expedition to explore Tibet, he would have
telegraphed back, " Start to-night : do we meet
Charing Cross or Mctoria ? "

I have dwelt on Bowen's gifts and methods
as a teacher, because teaching was the joy and
the business of his life, and because he showed
a new way in which boys might be stimulated
and guided. But he was a great deal besides
a teacher, just as his brother Charles was a
great deal besides a lawyer. Both had talents
for literature of a very high order. Charles
published a verse translation of Virgil's Eclogzies
and the first six books of the Aineid, full of
ingenuity and refinement, as well as of fine poetic
taste. Edward's vein expressed itself in the
writing of songs. His school songs, composed
for the Harrow boys, became immensely popular
with them, and their use at school celebrations
of various kinds has passed from Harrow to
the other great schools of England, even
to some of the larger girls' schools. The
songs are unique in their fanciful ingenuity and
humorous extravagance, full of a boyish joy in
life, in the exertion of physical strength, in the
mimic strife of games, yet with an occasional
touch of sadness, like the shadow of a passing
cloud as it falls on the cricket field over which
the shouts of the players are ringing. The metres
are various : all show rhythmical skill, and in all
the verse has a swing which makes it singularly

360 Biographical Studies

effective when sung by a mass of voices. Most
of the songs are dedicated to cricket or football,
but a few are serious, and two or three of these
have a beauty of thought and perfection of form
which make the reader ask why a poetic gift so
true and so delicate should have been rarely used.
These songs were the work of his middle or later
years, and he never wrote except when the im-
pulse came upon him. The stream ran pure but
it ran seldom. In early days he had been for a
while, like many other brilliant young University
men of his time, a contributor to the Saturday
Review. (There surely never was a journal which
enlisted so much and such varied literary talent
as the Sahirday did between 1855 and 1863.)
Bowen's articles were, like his elder brother's,
extremely witty. In later life he could seldom
be induced to write, having fallen out of the habit,
and being, indeed, too busy to carry on any large
piece of work ; but the occasional papers on educa-
tional subjects he produced showed no decline in
his vivacity or in the abundance of his humour.
Those who knew the range and the resources
of his mind sometimes regretted that he would do
nothing to let the world know them. But he

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 21 of 29)