Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The public schools of London
THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF LONDON.
The other day the “Old Westminsters “held a meeting to consider whether it would not be advisable to remove the school from the neighbourhood of the Abbey to some situation where the scholars could breathe the pure air of the country, instead of the heavy mixture of fog and smoke which hangs over the Westminster district for the greater portion of the year. Three centuries ago the school was admirably situated—and the desire of the innovators was but to imitate the example set by Henry VIII. and Queen Elizabeth when St. Peter’s College was first founded. It is an odd coincidence that this discussion should have arisen in the course of this year, 1860—for it was exactly three centuries back, that is, in the year 1560, that Queen Elizabeth really placed this noble foundation in a position to maintain itself as one of the institutions of the country. Henry VIII. was no doubt the original founder, but as his royal way was, he had played such tricks with the abbey revenues, that St. Peter’s College would soon have died of financial atrophy, but for the timely interference of his daughter. Queen Bess took the matter in hand precisely three centuries ago.
Now in the year of grace 1560, the young Westminsters who came tumbling out of school to seek for recreation after a due allowance of birch and Latin grammar, must have scampered about a very different locality from their young successors of our own day. The old abbey was there to be sure—how clean Henry VIIth’s chapel must have looked in those days!—and Westminster Hall of course, and some queer old houses in the Sanctuary; but our small forefathers must have been able to take their pastime in Tothill Fields in very different style from their descendants. The Thames, which has ever been the great source of recreation and triumph to the Westminster boys, must have glided under the shadow of the old Hall in greater purity than it now does at Halliford or Shepperton. The present Vine Street was a vineyard—for England was a grape-growing country in those days. I am afraid the streets immediately round the abbey must have been a terrible nest of thieves and vagabonds, and that the more aspiring young alumni of St. Peter’s College must always have been getting into trouble for sculking within the forbidden precincts—but once away from these, they were in the open country. The present proposal is to remove the school to some healthy locality out of town, where the boys may lay in a large stock of health at the same time that they are filling their heads with as much learning as they will contain.
Surely a great deal of cant is talked about the religio loci. Boys, with rare exceptions, don’t get sentimental about the dust and ashes of their predecessors at particular schools. When they become grown men they fancy they fancied such things—but there is marvellously little of retrospection in schoolboy nature. I was myself for many years a scholar at one of the great London schools, and amongst the great names in our archives were those of John Milton and of the great Duke of Marlborough. I cannot call to mind any instance in which I ever heard any of my schoolfellows mention their names. Not one amongst us of whom I have heard ever became a bit the more poet or warrior because these two tremendous worthies had been whipped through Lilly’s Latin Grammar under the same “dear shades” as ourselves. It is to be presumed that if John Milton—according to the old University tradition—suffered a little practical martydom at Christ’s College, Cambridge, it is not impossible that he got into trouble occasionally about the Gerunds and Supines at an earlier period of his scholastic career. I fully admit that in later years we are all of us apt to grow sentimental about the traditions of our respective schools—I merely deny that we do so whilst we remain in statu pupillari. Mr. Disraeli inverted the romantic Etonian.
The question of the removal of our public schools from the heart of London to healthier and more airy situations must soon receive a practical solution; and, as I fancy, there can be but one termination to the dispute. If there is sentiment on one side, there is reason on the other. Let the metropolitan schools by all means be removed to situations near the metropolis—so that even the day-boy difficulty may be overcome. It would not, however, be any great misfortune if the day-boys were converted into boarders. If there be any value in the public-school system of England—and it is, I think, of the greatest value in the formation of the national character—a “boarder” is, in a ten-fold degree, more of a public-school boy than his young companion who, every night of his life, is thrown back upon the amenities and indulgences of home. Let us not deceive ourselves upon this point; the mere book-learning is the smallest of the advantages which a boy derives from his public-school career. England wants men, more than scholars, although, of course, it is quite right that a limited number of persons in a nation, with special faculties, and aptitudes for the work, should devote themselves to the business of keeping alive the old traditions of sound learning. These are not to be despised. I do not see that the youngsters of the present day are at all likely to grow up into more energetic or useful men than their fathers, although they know all about “ologies,” of which we never heard. They are apt to sneer at our Greek Iambics and Sapphics, and can’t see how such exercitations can help us on with steam-engines and tubular bridges; but for myself I confess I should not despair of a lad if I saw that he was a good cricketer, and construed his Sophocles freely. Let us, however, adhere to my point. Winchester, Rugby, Harrow, and even Eton—(I grieve to write even)—are better schools, because they are more healthily situated than Westminster, Charter House, St. Paul’s, Merchant Taylors’ and Christ’s Hospital. I am compelled by the necessity for writing the plain truth, to admit that the site of Eton is not well-chosen. We have heard of late a great deal too much of outbreaks of sickness amongst the scholars, and how they have been sent home before the “half” was over, lest a worse thing might befal them. The lowness of the situation, and the immediate proximity of the river, with the enormous quantity of the decaying vegetation by which, in the autumn time, the College is surrounded, are quite sufficient to account for the fact. It may be a question of drainage, and of falling trees; but, despite of the wonderful beauty of the place, it might have been better if the College had been placed high up on Ascot Heath—or, if the river is to be taken as an indispensable condition of Eton life—at least upon elevated ground overlooking the Thames.
The question of a healthy site should be the first to be considered by all parents who are about to send their boys to a public school. Let them live in pure air whilst their constitutions are in process of formation, rather than associate with young dukes. The misery or happiness of their future lives must mainly depend upon their health. A grown man may face atmospheric danger with comparative impunity, which would be—if not fatal—at least permanently injurious to mere youths. The death-test is not a sufficient one. It is not—save to the individuals more immediately concerned—of much consequence whether three or six boys out of 700 or 800 die in the course of a year; but it is of the most serious moment whether all are placed under the conditions best calculated to promote vital energy.
I trust the reader will pardon me if I have insisted a little more gravely than of wont upon this point, for it is one I dare not trifle with. I should rejoice to see the day when every public school in London was removed to some little distance in the country. The site chosen should be somewhere not far from town, both for the convenience of scholars and masters. It should not be too near, lest the task of shifting their quarters again should be too suddenly cast upon those who are to come after us. Robert Sutton and Dean Colet had as little idea of what London would be one day, as we have of what it will be three hundred years hence. Every facility which money could give might safely be reckoned upon, for the present sites of public schools in London are of enormous money-value. They are literally built upon gold. Not so very long since the sum of 200,000l. was offered for the Charter House site. It was intended to convert it into a central railway terminus. Unfortunately the offer was refused. Look again at St. Paul’s School. When one remembers the prices which were offered and demanded for that little speck of ground which commanded the south-eastern view of the Cathedral, it seems almost profane to offer even a guess at the value of well-nigh one side of St. Paul’s Churchyard. The “Mercers,” who are the guardians of Dean Colet’s will, might, upon the annual interest of the difference in value between a London and a country site, almost undertake to convert the day boys into boarders, and to find them in beef, lodging, and clothing, as well as Latin and Greek. Let us now throw a glance upon two of the great London schools.
How well I remember the gloomy November morning, now so many years ago, when I was taken down to the iron gratings of that dismal wild-beast cage in St. Paul’s Churchyard, which you may call either the cloisters or the playground, if you are not very particular about using correct terms. The gorgeous beadle—he was an Irishman, and poor fellow! long since gathered to his brother Celts—struck my soul with awe. You passed under a door-way on the southern side which gave access to the stone staircase by which you ascended to the school-room. Running all the way up there was a large flue, and in a sort of cellar below the furnace which heated the air which was delivered by this flue into the school-room above. Now it so happened that upon that memorable occasion, which was indeed the commencement of my academic career, and I suppose because the occasion was memorable, and therefore to be marked by some peculiar solemnity of dress, the authorities at home had despatched me to the scene of action with a beautiful velvet cap with a gold tassel—a sweet thing indeed—upon my head. It was hoped that this gorgeous head-piece would soften the manners of my future companions, and not permit them to be fierce. Alas! it was not so. I was just recovering from the effects of the beadle, and not altogether without reliance upon the splendour of the cap, was beginning to creep slowly up that stone staircase, when, as it were in the clouds above me, I heard a wild cry which was neither a scream nor a shout, but something like what I should fancy a Red Indian’s war-whoop to be in the moments of highest excitement. Then there was a scuffle and a rush as of some ferocious animal bounding down-stairs—then my cap was torn off my head, and, as it were, a thunderbolt struck me. It was no thunderbolt, however, but Joe Day, a large beefy boy, dressed in a suit of bottle-green, which he had evidently out-grown some considerable time. For a while this young gentleman steadily devoted himself to the duty of punching my urchin’s head whilst he held up the fatal cap in derision, and requested to know who was my hatter. I could not give him a direct answer, for indeed the cap had not been purchased at any particular establishment, but was the result of much feminine tenderness and ingenuity at home. The possibility of the existence of such wild beasts as Joe Day had never entered into the imaginations of the gentle contrivers of that graceful head-gear. Not satisfied with knocking me about, the horrible boy first kicked my poor cap into the cellar below, and then following it up in person, committed it to the flames. I was not ten years of age at the time, and could as soon have attempted to do battle against Joe Day as against a rhinoceros—but such was my first introduction to public school life in England. Looking back at the transaction now through the long vista of years, I admit that it was an unwise proceeding to send me to a school with any article of dress upon me calculated to attract attention in any way, or to excite the slightest remark. Mothers and sisters, and aunts of England, when you are about to send any little urchin dear to you to a public school, be careful to ascertain the usual standard of dress amongst the boys. Think of Joe Day, and do not make the child too beautiful to mortal gaze, or he will surely be kicked, or possibly be made a target of for small hard balls.
In some way or other I managed to crawl up-stairs; but if it had not been for the awful beadle—who, as I imagined, would have put me to death in some swift and military way had I attempted to desist—I think I should have endeavoured to make my escape. However, there was no help for it; and in a few moments I found myself in the great school-room which was to be the scene of so much suffering to me, and, I am bound to add, of so much enjoyment.
There were four masters in St. Paul’s School in those days. I have heard since that they have got some new-fangled mathematical instructors, French teachers, and persons of that description; bat in my day all was pure Latin and Greek. The head master was a line old corpulent Greek scholar of majestic presence, much respected, if not actually beloved by the boys. The idea of attachment or affection from us little fellows towards so awful a personage as Dr. Sleath was out of the question. When he appeared, the school was dumb. We believed in that big man; and afterwards, when I came to years of scholastic discretion, and could appreciate his merits, I knew that he was excellent both as a schoolmaster and a man. He was not a king of boys of the Arnold type. So the lads did the work well, and did not make a noise, he was satisfied. He did not love to be diverted from his usual functions of educing the classical capabilities of the eighth and seventh forms (the eighth was the highest); and, indeed, whenever he was called in as a Deus ex machinâ, it was not for a pleasant purpose. It became occasionally his duty to cane a little boy in a very solemn way, which operation was effected in the following manner: The captain of the school was sent into the monitor’s study for a parcel of canes, out of which the old gentleman chose one, exhibiting considerable taste and discrimination in the selection. He next tucked his long silk divinity gown behind him with one hand, and holding his cane in the other, stalked in a majestic and imperial way to the end of the school-room, where there was a little raised platform, higher by two steps than the floor of the school. I had forgotten to say that this huge divine wore knee-breeches, black silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles, after the fashion of older days. These little arrangements being made—while there was terror in the atmosphere, and amidst a dead silence—the small culprit was led up to him who was at the same time his judge and executioner. The Doctor then proclaimed, in a sonorous and emphatic way, the misdeeds of which the little boy had been guilty, hurling reproaches at him the while in a biting and soul-destroying manner. “Stubbs Minor wouldn’t do his verses, and had told a lie—yes, a lie! wouldn’t do his verses, and had told a lie! Stubbs Minor had told a lie—yes, a lie! Stubbs Minor hold out your hand!” Stubbs Minor had been placed on the first step, and held out his hand to receive the terrific blows which the doctor was ready to pour on him from above. The worst policy was to flinch, or withdraw the hand, for in that case the doctor was apt to overbalance himself, and stagger about on the platform in a ludicrous way, when he invariably lost his temper, and a real rage took the place of the simulated anger. Upon such occasions Stubbs Minor was likely enough to come in for a good thing. A caning from Sleath when his blood was up was no joke.
As a schoolmaster, however, he must have been deserving of much praise, for the pupils whom he sent up to Cambridge, carried off the highest classical honours of the university year after year. Fellows of Trinity, Pitt Scholars, Gold Medallists, &c., &c, were plants which Sleath knew how to grow to perfection. The old gentleman was well up in the Greek authors—I give the following little story as ludicrous if not complete and decided evidence of the fact. We had an idea that the Doctor knew Homer by heart. When I had attained such a position in the school as brought me immediately under his care, we were called upon to commit some forty or fifty lines of this author to memory twice in the week. Now, in our class there was a tall, gaunt boy with scarcely the vestige of a nose, who exceedingly disliked the trouble of learning his repetition; but either nature had endowed him with the faculty of emitting Homeric sounds, or he had carefully cultivated the power. Now, when this boy was called upon to perform, he would rise slowly and calmly from his seat—the two highest forms sat whilst they were under fire—and starting with a few Greek words which he had just cribbed, would proceed somewhat thus
Kai mataroi galaban, kai tene elaphoio paraksas
Megar thene melapou rodivios theutar epaitas;
Tene perimousan ika, felaroldios ouket igoion
Meeks adiperan efee kai kikety rolopoloios.
Whilst this was going on, Sleath would sit still upon his chair, soothed by the majestic stream of Homeric sound, and closing his eyes, and tapping his nose with his gold spectacles, would repeat the real words to himself. Had Codd Major hesitated for a moment, so as to call the old Doctor’s attention to the enormous nonsense he was talking, he was lost. But he always proceeded with the most imperturbable gravity, never pausing for a word, and going through his work in a matter of fact way which put all idea of jocularity out of the question. The joke, however, used generally to end in serious discomfort to his class-fellows, for do what we would we were convulsed with laughter, whilst not a muscle of his countenance changed. The Doctor would rouse himself from his Homeric swoon at last; and looking round like an angry lion set us a fearful imposition all round—saving to the real culprit; whilst Codd Major was informed, that he was “a good boy, a good boy, a very good boy, indeed!” So much for justice.
The Doctor was famous for the chocolate with which he regaled his guests upon Apposition Days. The Apposition Day was the Speech-day, when the speeches were made, and the prize essays and verses read in presence of a numerous assembly. The school was fitted up with scaffolding, and gaudily decorated with red cloth for the occasion. We little fellows, I am speaking of times before I came under the influence of Codd Major and the Homeric sounds, had a belief that the most distinguished people came from all parts of the earth upon that eventful day, nominally to listen to the views of South Minor upon whether or no eloquence was of advantage to a nation; but actually, and in very truth, to get a cup of Sleath’s chocolate. I believe the old gentleman was what is called a bon-vivant, and now that the shadow of his power no longer darkens my mind, I can’t help thinking that some of the numerous half-holidays which he gave us, ostensibly because the monitors, or some amongst them, had done Latin verses of a very remarkable and entrancing character, in reality fell to our lot because the Doctor wanted a half-holiday for himself. As it was we had three half-holdays a-week, which was a fair enough allowance in all conscience; but Sleath generally threw in two or three more in the course of a month. The ceremony of allowing this additional recreation was performed in the following way. Just before prayers and dismissal the Doctor would ascend the bad eminence from which he used in his sterner moods to cane the little boys, with a magnificently bound volume under his arm, which contained fair copies of the Sapphics, or Alcaics, which had procured for the school the comfort of a little additional recreation, and announce the gratifying intelligence in this manner: “There will be a play to-day for the compositions of South Major, South Minor, Spolworthy, and Jobs.” We were duly grateful to the young poets, but I can scarcely be doing the old Doctor wrong when I think that his appreciation of their performances was more highly strung whenever he wanted the afternoon for playing purposes on his own account.
The sub-master in my day was ——. By a singular coincidence between the character and the christian names of this gentleman, his initials ran thus—W. A. C. Now insert an H. between the W. and the A. and the result will express the operation which he was ever performing on the persons of the boys under his care throughout school-hours. He really liked to cane the boys—he seemed to fancy they enjoyed the operation as much as he did, and had invented forms of torture of a playful kind for our benefit. His most dexterous piece of manipulation was this. The patient held out his hand, and —— would strike the end of the cane which he held—near the holding point of course—on his own disengaged arm. The effect of this was that the punishing end came down with a jerk upon the sufferer’s hand; but he had attained such a high degree of dexterity that he could chip off the end of a nail, and finally bring the cane back on the rebound well on the backs of the fingers. The pain was exquisite on a cold morning, and how —— would chuckle, and grin, and show his false teeth—you could see the gold about them—whilst the wretched boy danced about under the affliction. I do not believe that he was a man of unkindly nature for all that; but custom had deadened in him all sense of the torture he was inflicting upon others. It was not a pleasant thing to come in late when —— had been dining out the day before, and was suffering from headache. As the gentleman who was the lowest master at the time I entered the school still survives, and is still, I believe, connected with it, I will forbear to name him. If I made further mention of him it would only be for good, for even now that so many years are gone by I still retain a recollection of his kindness to the little urchins who, I dare say, gave him trouble enough, and taxed his patience at times almost beyond endurance. Nor will I speak of the fourth master by name, though he has long since gone to his account. It gives me still a shudder when I think of the savage manner in which he used to cane the boys whenever he became excited—and he was very often excited. As it turned out there was a physical reason for these violent outbreaks of temper; but he was clearly an unfit person during the later years of his scholastic rule to be entrusted with the charge of boys. I have always heard that in private life he was respected by those who knew him; but I can only say, that if you would arrive at a just notion of terrorism, imagine yourself to be a boy of about twelve years of age, standing up with —— at your back with a cane in his hand, and conjugating the verb χρυσόω. There was only one boy who ever overcame him in my time, and this was a small damp-looking youth, who possessed the faculty of uttering the most appalling and awful yell that ever passed from human lips: you might have heard it out in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Now, as all the classes or forms were indoctrinated in sound learning under one and the same roof, it was not pleasant for —— to find himself put in the position of a ruthless tormentor, if it was only that Sleath was there to hear the yells. The boy would stare at him for a second or two before the blow fell, and then writhe about like a wounded snake, whilst he howled in the manner suggested. —— would dance round him all the while, and call him a young dog, a young rascal, and what not; but the lad would keep his eye on the cane, and stand ready for a fresh scream as it fell.
I would not, however, do such injustice to the noble foundation of Dean Colet as to leave it to be supposed that it was a mere torture-house. There was a great deal too much caning, to be sure; but we had our moments and hours of delight. How good the hot rolls and pats of fresh butter were when eaten by hungry boys in those old cloisters, the more so that they were the captives of our bows and spears. We were liable to punishment if we were caught either eundo redeundo; but this only added zest to the rolls and butter. What entrancing moments have I not spent at Mother Shand’s, who kept the “tuck-shop” in one of the dark streets near Doctors’ Commons. How delicious were the hot three-cornered cranberry tarts! Oh! to have the faculty of feeling that juicy rapture once more! and the full cloying voluptuousness of the sausage-rolls! There were, too, periods of intense happiness when we effected our escape to the coal-lighters which lay snugly in the mud at Paul’s Wharf, not the noble structure at which the Waterman’s steamers now call for passengers, but then a mere Thames Hard. A game of follow-my-leader over those coal-lighters was not a thing to be lightly spoken of, nor a pull on the river whenever we could club our half-pence together in sufficient quantity to hire a boat for an hour. What a wonder it was, to be sure, that we were not all drowned under Blackfriars’ Bridge. The number of boys at Saint Paul’s School was fixed by the founder at 153, in allusion to the miraculous draught of fishes taken by Saint Peter. The school is exceedingly rich, and the scholars as I have before mentioned have constantly attained high honours at the University of Cambridge. Amongst our most eminent Paulines may be mentioned, Sir Anthony Denny; Leland, the antiquary; Milton, Samuel Pepys, Strype, Doctor Calamy; the great Duke of Marlborough, Elliston, the late Lord Truro, and many other English worthies of great repute.
Had I been free to choose that one amongst the London schools at which I should have wished to be educated, I think my choice would have fallen on the Charter House. I am speaking as a man, and my judgment only rests upon the external features of the place. Although, even with regard to the Charter House, I think it would be far better for the pupils, and far more for the ultimate advantage of the school, if it were removed into the country. I am bound to say that it has about it more air, more space, more light, than any other of the metropolitan schools. Westminster is not half as good in these respects—however great in the veneration which attaches to that noble old school, and to the adjacent abbey. But as you stroll along the elevated terrace which lies on the roof of the long cloisters in the Charter House grounds, and are looking over that fair expanse of green sward below, you cannot but see that it is a place in which boys might be reasonably happy. There is a great stillness, too, which is strange in the heart of London. Moreover, as I am informed, the school and grounds are in the healthiest part of the metropolis. I think it would be better for the boys if they had green lanes, and cheerful uplands where they might take their pastime; still, if we are to have a London school at all, give me the Charter House.
As I had not the advantage of being a Carthusian myself, I visited the place in company with a friend who had not been there for some thirty years or so, when he was a schoolboy there himself. I saw the place through his spectacles; but before I make further mention of our pleasant stroll, I would say that some five centuries ago, Sir Walter de Manny took the land on which the Charter House and its dependencies is situated, and assigned it as a burial place for the poor destroyed by the plague of 1349. About twenty years later a monastery of Carthusians was erected upon the spot; and in this monastery, subsequently, Sir Thomas More lived for four years of his life, giving himself up to devotion and prayer. When King Henry VIII. took the various monasteries and religious houses of the country in hand, he seems to have dealt with the superiors of the Charter House, and notably with the Prior, in a very masterful manner indeed: John Howghton, the last Prior, did not fall with sufficient readiness into the ideas of the Royal Rcasoner with regard to the King’s supremacy; and so, by way of bringing the argument to a satisfactory conclusion, Henry caused him to be decapitated at Tyburn, and ordered that his head should be stuck up on London Bridge, and his body be placed over the gate of the Charter House itself, all of which was done. Thus, the Charter House was first a burial-ground, and then a monastery for three centuries. For the next seventy years or so it passed through many hands, and seems to have been rather devoted to purposes of entertainment and hospitality than to any other use. Queen Elizabeth stayed there many days; King James I. kept his court there; and so forth. But in the reign of this very King James, and in the year of Grace 1611, the property passed into the hands of Robert Sutton, a wealthy London merchant, who has made the place what it is, and left fair memory of himself to all time.
The founder of the Charter House had two objects in view when he devoted his wealth to the benefit of generations to come. Besides the school, upon the foundation are maintained eighty pensioners, who live together in collegiate style. Each pensioner has a large and comfortable room to his separate use. They dine together in a common hall, which is a very beautiful room, much like the halls of the smaller colleges at Cambridge, but with far braver sculpture and fretwork than I remember to have seen in any of them. They have all necessaries found them—except dress—and they are allowed 14l. a-year each in lieu of this, and with it purchase their own apparel. Then there is the school, and on the foundation are forty-four scholars, who are supported free of all expense, and there are various exhibitions at the University for their benefit. The bulk of the scholars are boarders and day-boys—that is, those who board at the houses of the masters, and those who only come for instruction in the day time, and return to their own homes at night. The number of scholars at the Charter House has sadly fallen off of late years. Thirty years back they were 500 or 600 in number, now they count, I think, less than 200. This again is a result of keeping the school in town. Parents will send their children to Harrow or Rugby, instead of to a school which is in the heart of London, for all its three acres of playing-green, its garden, and its trees.
Many changes had taken place in the old grounds within the last thirty years. The one which seemed to grieve my friend most, although he is especially a man of peaceful disposition, was the disappearance—I use the word advisedly—of the old fighting-ground. A church now stands where the old Carthusians used to pummel each other’s heads. “Look there!” said Jones—we will call him Jones—“that was the place,” and added with a withering sneer, “and now see what they have done with it; upon my life, it’s too bad!” The school-house stands in the middle of the green. The principal room is of considerable size, and appeared to be well ventilated, which is the main point. There are huge maps round the walls—a good idea, for, in spite of his best efforts to the contrary, a boy must obtain some correct notions of geography when he sees a map before him every time he raises his eyes. The head-master takes his forms in hand in a smaller room which opens out of the large school-room. The most interesting object in this place is the flogging-block, which is indeed no block at all, but a stout pair of steps, two steps high. The youthful Carthusian who is about to play his part in the good old game of tickle-toby kneels on the lower one of these steps, and remains there whilst the reverend gentleman who is the other performer carries the operation through. There must have been some disagreeable moments spent in that little apartment. How the books and papers which were lying about in the large school-room carried me back in thought to other days! On a scrap of paper the following “exercise” was written in a fine sprawling school-boy hand:
A husbandman one day found a viper, stiff, and frozen with cold. The husbandman took the viper in his bosom, and carried it home. The husbandman put the viper before the fire, but as soon as it was warm and comfortable, the viper stung the husbandman.
Moral. Ingratitude is always to be expected from the ungrateful.
Then there were “selections” from Latin authors. One could almost believe the books to be the very ones through which one had been whipped oneself in a former state of existence. Against the walls there were, as well as the big maps, tablets with the names of the young Carthusians who had been the “Orators” and “Gold Medallists” of their day. I did not remark in these lists for the last thirty years the name of any one who had subsequently obtained serious distinction in life, although Carthusians in general hold their own very respectably amongst the marking men of the day, and though in the present century they reckon among their number the names of Grote, Havelock, Thirlwall, Monk, and Thackeray.
We strolled out into the green again, which is so large that one portion of it forms an excellent cricket-ground. It is surrounded by high walls, and is overlooked from the upper windows of the houses in the adjacent streets. J. mentioned to me a story of a young Carthusian’s mother which was, I thought, touching enough. She had sent her little boy, then a mere child, to this huge school. It had cost her many a pang to part with him; but as she was a lady of good sense, as well as of gentle heart, she resolved to abstain from visiting him at his boarding-house. She knew it was right that he should be left to take his chance with the others, and she had sufficient strength of mind not to sacrifice his future welfare to the indulgence of her own affection. See him, however, she would, but in such a way that the child could not see her. She therefore hired a room in one of the houses which commanded a view of the Carthusian playing-ground; and here she would sit behind a blind day after day, happy and content so that she could get a glimpse of her child. Sometimes she would see him strolling about with his arm round the neck of one of his little companions, as the way of schoolboys is; sometimes he was playing and jumping about with childish glee; but still the mother kept her watch. You may see the place where she did it. Look yonder, that upper window, just beside the gold-beater’s arm.
It is an odd coincidence that the tuck-shop is situated precisely under the flogging-room; so that, whilst one young Carthusian is suffering the torments of the birched over-head, the friend may be sucking sweet lollipops below. Underneath the long gallery of which I have already spoken there is an old cloister, which looks on the green on one side; on the other there used to be a series of arches, which, probably, in the old time led into the cells of the monks. It is a pity that these have all been bricked up, save one, for it does away with the old-world look of the place. This cloister must be a fine withdrawing-room for the young Carthusians on rainy days. Jones pointed out to me some trees on the other side of the Green, which he told me were known in those latitudes as the “coach tree.” What on earth could trees have to do with coaches? The explanation was this. In the old coaching days great numbers of the mails and stage-coaches bound to the northward used to pass just outside the Charter-House walls. Now the boys did not see why they should be debarred from this delectable sight; and, accordingly, they used to climb up these trees to the upper branches, from which they could see the coaches. They had notched the trees, and driven in spikes at ticklish points of the ascent, so that they could climb up the more easily. Another tree (it might have been trees) was remarkable as the hoop-tree. It appeared that, according to the custom of the Charter House, the boys only played at hoops at particular seasons of the year. A Carthusian would as soon have played at hoops out of the season as a sportsman would shoot a partridge in July. When this season was at an end, the correct thing was to jerk the hoops up into this tree, so that it became perfectly festooned with them. Another peculiarity about Charter House hoop play was, that the boys always drove two, and even four, hoops, instead of one, urging them on in teams, side by side, with a long thin stick.
From the Green we strolled on through the pensioners’ quarter. The old gentlemen whom we saw about seemed to be cheerful and content enough; and certainly they have but scant cause of complaint. We went-first into the Hall, where the cloths were laid for their dinner; they dine in messes of eight. It is an exceedingly fine room in the collegiate style; but as I am not writing a guide-book, I will spare the reader all talk about screens, music-galleries, and so forth. Having seen where the pensioners dine, we thought the best thing we could do was to step round to the kitchen, and see what they were to have for dinner. Some very appetising joints of meat were being roasted before a huge fire for their benefit; and on a side table were placed helpings of gooseberry tart; very nice it all seemed. I should like very well to dine with the Charter House pensioners. Over the fire-place is an inscription,
DEO DANTE DEDI.
And what seemed to me whimsical enough, against the wall there hung the shell of a departed turtle, and on it was engraved in fair characters,
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.
By no means let us waste the calipash and calipee! I quite agree with the author of the sentiment. We next went to the Chapel, where the pensioners, and schoolboys, and all who live within the walls of the Charter House, attend service. A very fine old chapel it is, but I have not space to talk about it here.
If I were compelled to send a boy to any of the London schools, and unless there are drawbacks of which I know nothing, I would certainly select the Charter House, in preference to Westminster, St. Paul’s, or Merchant Taylors’, on account of the Green and playing-grounds. Still, it would be far better if the governors and trustees could make up their minds to remove their penates altogether to the open country. The number of scholars, both at Westminster and Charter House, is sadly lower than it used to be; and the real reason of this falling off is, that parents very properly prefer to send their children to school in the country. Perhaps on another day I may say a few words about Westminster, the Bluecoat School, and Merchant Taylors’. For the present, as Dr. Sleath used to say, “There will be a play to-day, for the composition of——”