Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/"Dulce domum"
In the name of all Wykehamists, old and young, let me protest against hearing our glorious song called “a fine old fragment,” an “old and almost forgotten lyric.” Mr. J. F. O’D. truly calls the “Dulce, dulce, dulce Domum” “the touching refrain.” Touching it is to a Wykehamist’s ears as ever the “Ranz des Vaches” was to the Swiss Guard in Paris, so touching that it never will lose its grace and tenderness as long as Wykeham’s College stands and the Domum is celebrated year by year in the pleasant month of July. It is only the burden of six as brave verses as ever were trolled on a summer evening, and forming to our ears as complete a melody as ever inspired the best of musicians and the first of poets. True it is, alas! that we have not sung it for two years, because we lost two of the best Wardens that “New” and “Winton” ever saw, and in whose memory we are about to rebuild Thurburn’s great tower. But this year let your readers, and especially the ladies, come and visit the dear old place, and we will promise them such a treat that they will often long to repeat it.
We have all heard the old story of the boy pining away while he composed Domum; we have been shown the labyrinth on hills which he trod while he was composing it, and have been directed to the tree on the bark of which he carved the words when he had composed it. But we do not believe it, we will not believe it, for we could not believe it. The labyrinth on St. Catherine’s is a mizemaze, like many others known as Julian’s bowers. Internal evidence is against the fable of a sorrowing captive detained during the holidays; and as for the tree it is called “Domum” Tree because the song was sung under the branches of a former tree which grew upon the same spot. Only hear it sung in Hall on the six last Saturdays in the Long-Half before Evening Hills, and then determine whether it has a sad tune and doleful words. There is not a note of sorrow in the whole of it; it is a good honest schoolboy’s chant of joy at escaping from tasks and vulgusses, books and toys—books meaning the forms on which the scholar sits, and toys the bureaus at which he prepares his work; having misnomers as many other things in the wide world beyond those grey College walls have. So lately as 1796 the masters, scholars, choristers, and chaplains, with a band of music, walked in procession round the courts before the Whitsun holidays, and then round “Domum” tree, when Dr. Joseph Warton, mounted on his little grey pony, formed a conspicuous object in the procession. Twenty years before, “Domum” was sung at the Wharf, round the tree, and at the College gates, on the evening before the Whitsuntide holidays. In 1804, Huddesford wrote the following lines “on a threat to destroy the tree at Winchester round which the scholars at breaking-up sing the celebrated song called ‘Dulce Domum:’”
Then hail! fair Virgin Liberty!
All around thy sacred tree
Yearly, when returning May
The green sod decks with herbage gay,
Freshest spring flowers will we strew
And cowslips dropping bathed with dew.
Nay, the song itself fixes the time for its use as much as the pretty chant to the returning swallow at Stockholm, for does it not say—
Jam repetit domum
Nosque domum repetamus.
[Homeward flies the swallow now, and homeward let us go.]
Did ever weeping schoolboy, “creeping like snail unwillingly to school,” much less one confined during “leave out,” and therefore—yet much less—in confinement during the holidays, have the heart to sing—
Musa, libros mitte fessa,
Mitte pensa dura;
Jam datur otium,
Me mea mittite cura.
[Leave weary muse books; leave hard tasks; now rest is given, away with labour: care of mine leave me.]
How blithely, too, does the lad sing—
Appropinquat ecce felix
Post grave tædium
Meta petita laborum.
Ridet annus, prata rident,
[See, the happy hour of joys approaches; after long weariness the long desired goal of labour arrives. Laughs the year, the meadows laugh, and we should laugh.]
How joyously he looks for home—
Matris et oscula,
Suaviter nunc repetamus,
[The beloved threshold, a mother’s kiss, sweetly now we seek again,]
and shouts for faithful Roger to bring up the horses that he may be off and away—
Heus! Rogere fer caballos,
Eja nunc eamus.
[Ho! Roger! bring out the horses quickly, come, we would be going.]
How querulously he chides the morning star for its slow appearance—
Phosphore! quid jubar
Gaudia nostra moratur?
[Morning star, why does thy ray so late beaming delay our joys?]
Happy, happy boy! he calls to his mates to sing to his dear household gods—
Concinamus oh Sodales,
Concinamus ad Penates,
Vox et audiatur!
[Sing we, oh my mates, sing we of home, and let our voice be heard.]
It is only within the present decade we have sung at Winton “Domum dulce Domum” with the heartiest, to the old, old tune which John Reading re-set in the days of Charles II., soon after the Restoration. We have sung it in Willis’ Rooms in London, as we have sung it in hospitable New College, at the “gaudy,” in years gone by, not-to-be-repeated, and we never could detect a strain of sadness, except that, from time to time, some well-remembered voices were lacking, especially in the College meads; for on these—
Up springs at every step to claim a tear,
Some little friendship found and cherished here;
And not the lightest leaf but trembling teems,
With golden visions and romantic dreams.
It is a railway journey of little more than an hour and a half from London to the fine old city of Winton, that lies hidden in the valley, surrounded with its breezy downs and laced with silvery water-meads. There is the red-brick palace, built by Wren for Charles II. when he intended to hunt over the green sward towards Hursley and Oliver’s Batten, standing on the hill and occupied by Her Majesty’s depôt battalion of Rifles—and there are the long roofs and dumpy tower of the Cathedral, the graceful steeple of the College, the ruins of Wolvesey hidden among the trees—almost under the shadow of the chalky cliff of St. Giles—and far away the grey walls of St. Cross lying below St. Catherine’s Hill—
Crown’d with a peculiar diadem
Of trees, in circular array, so fixed
Not by the sport of nature, but by man;
as in good truth they were by the hands of my Lord Bottetourt and the gallant officers of the Gloucestershire regiment of Militia more than a century ago.
We saunter down under the fine Gothic arch of the west gate, glance at the graceful market cross of the time of Henry VI., walk under the pleasant shade of the avenue of limes, cross the green close, then through the king’s gate with the quaint little church of St. Swithin over the postern, and there, before us, is Wykeham’s Gate, so different as it looks now from the time when we first saw it, with some feelings of trepidation for our probable experiences within its enclosure. There it is, as perfect as the day when the first procession of Warden and Scholars came singing down from St. John’s Hill to take possession; as perfect as when gallant Mr. Nicholas Love and Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes interposed to prevent any injury being offered to it by the truculent Roundheads, and is not the story still told to the scholar when for the first time he hears the statutes read? The courts are full of Wykehamists who have arrived from all corners of the kingdom, waiting for election dinner. In old days we had four dinners, but now the shadow of the Commissioners has fallen upon ancient customs, and we have only this one merry meeting. If you are a stranger we can show you, before the Hall bell rings, some things worth seeing: the quaint figures round the quadrangle which mark the destination of each chamber; the lovely chapel; the exquisite cloisters; with the unique little library in the centre of the green; the Crimean memorial, rich in English marbles, which we erected to the gallant fellows who died in that disastrous campaign; and the wall-painting of the famous “Trusty Servant,” which dates back to 1631 at the latest. An enterprising locksmith of the Strand displays it in his window, framed; we presume from a far-fetched allusion to the allegorical padlock which fastens the porker’s jaws in the original. We could tell you of the great or notable men who have stood on this very spot—Otway, Young, Collins, Somerville, Phillips, and Dibdin; Sir Henry Wotton, Shaftesbury, James Harris, and Sir Thomas Browne; Onslow and Sidmouth; Keats and Warren; Dalbiac, Wilson, and Seaton; of Warham and Grocyn; Chicheley, Fox, and Waynflete; Burgess, Lowth, and Ken; Sydney Smith, Daubeny, and Buckland. We could tell of the Royal Edwards, Henries, and Charles’; of James the Pedant and George III.; of Pope and Peterborough; of Elizabeth and Mary (whose epithalamia the boys sang in Wolvesey Hall); and many another worthy who has entered these venerable walls. But the bell rings, and up the steep stairs we toil into the Hall,—the seniors and grandees of estate at the high table (upon whom Wykeham looks kindly down), the scholars ranged along the sides, and we old stagers at New College table in the centre of the Hall. We will initiate you into the mysteries of our peculiar dishes and potables; there are the long black jacks of leather full of frothing ale or potent huff, there are college puddings, there is unimpeachable crackling. But we have no care for this Barmecidean feast, we cannot tolerate these paper-toasts, and we have anticipated the glorious College grace, its noble benediction and rolling responses; we have forgotten the thanksgiving for William of Wykeham and all other benefactors, and the anthem-like prayer for the Queen, and the sublime Amen; we forget all the years that have elapsed between our “then and now,” for we can hear the music of the military band outside, and we know that “Domum” only waits our coming.
Down, down, down those precipitous stairs, past the chamber in which Waynflete taught, and the whole scene is changed; gay uniforms, pretty faces, dresses of every hue, and lovely figures, eclipse caps and gowns and civilians altogether. Through those tall doors, parted wide, under the Founder’s Statue (Cibber’s work), and we enter the school,—its oak-wainscotted walls, its emblazoned cornice, draped with garlands and flowers and flags. There, on yonder wall, above the orchestra, is the familiar Tabula Legum Pædagogicarum of the time of Good Queen Bess; and opposite are the equally famous mitre and staff, with the legend “Aut disce;” the sword and ink-horn, “Aut discede;” and oh! that Winchester rod, and its ominous reading, “Manet sors tertia cædi.” No wonder “one of us,” when Elizabeth graciously inquired if he had made acquaintance with these twigs, replied, “Infandum, regina, jubes renovare dolorem.”
Listen to that joyous strain—played as only the band of the Royal Marines L.I., Portsmouth Division, can play it—listen to that outburst of voices, and say was ever any sound so triumphantly happy:
Dulce melos Domum.
And if you should detect a tear in our eyes, it is only that of memory of happy days gone by for ever, which are revived by the scene around us, and the changed faces that, like our own, have lost the freshness of that spring time of our lives. Again and again we will join in the chorus in Ball Court, in Meads, in School Court, and under Middle Gate, when the evening has grown late, and in the summer twilight we slowly and reluctantly depart. But we cannot forget one night, some seven years since, when we sang the song in Commoners, with the appropriate tune following of the “Old Folks at Home,” played by the united bands on the occasion. It is a sore temptation to grow sentimental; but we resist the suggestion, for have we not said that Domum is a happy day? Our speech days remain; but Harrow and Eton have like festivals, though the one has lost its “Silver Arrow,” and the other its “Montem;” our plays and comedies are no longer acted, but Westminster preserves the practice. Our Domum is our own peculiar day, and long may it be preserved, like the procession of boats to Surly, at Eton, on the 4th of June.
None of us meet in these old familiar scenes, and under the grey college tower, without remembering our quaint school-politics, and the code of generous boyish laws which we once obeyed—the daily gossip of triumphs, failures, and scrapes—of the improvement or the disappointment caused by the failure of some player at cricket, fives, or football. The canvass of merit in the companion, and of conduct in a master—the forecasting who would win the prize or the scholarship—the check given to a bully, or the likelihood of a “disagreeable fellow” leaving—snatches of reference to home and its pursuits to the confidential friend—the hopes of the future life, and the exultation at the success of those who had made themselves a name already in the world. We look with a feeling akin to envy on the junior clustering round the confectioner’s boy, or shirking the call to be fagged; and on the senior plodding over his task, for we cannot but recollect that in this little world one could obtain influence without means, family, or position; friendship here was sincere, the bitterest estrangement capable of reconciliation, the most avowed hostility of explanation. How little each thought on the threshold of life that he would never meet his fellows again on the same standing; the old phrases in which he or they were initiated would be proscribed, the demeanor altered, the manners and habits of thought different,—that each would have gone through so much, before they would be re-united. But still the inspiring traditions and lasting influences remain unimpaired; the early sympathies are revived strong as ever, and like those who drank of the legendary spring of St. Leonard at Winchelsea, all thirst to revisit the “old place” again. For every Domum is like the re-assembling of the long sundered members of an united family round their parent’s hearth, the rallying place of their common affections, which is still the home of young and old alike—where all are equal and dear and welcome once again. As Canning said, “In my conscience I believe that England would not be what she is without her system of public education;” and Johnson never uttered a greater truth than when he averred that “at a great school there is all the splendour and illumination of many minds; the radiance of all is concentrated in each, or at least reflected on each.”
The following graphic letter, which was written in the year 1759, gives the earliest account of a Wykehamist meeting, and has never yet been printed.
As I do not find your name mentioned at the late meeting, it may not, I trust, be unacceptable to you if I send you some account of that transaction, for your own satisfaction and the credit of parties concerned in it. The first and principal, then, that I will observe to you is, that it was extremely well conducted as to order and unanimity; all was decent, without riot or dispute. The numbers present were about 150, amongst whom were the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Earls of Shaftesbury, Coventry, Hilsborough, March, and Eglintoun; Lords Wentworth, Saye and Sele, and Bruce; the Bishop of Exeter; Mordaunt, Acton, Drake, Filmer, Wriothesley, Hobbes, and other Baronets; Messrs. Doddington, Starkie, Drax, Fletcher, Butler, Bond, Hamilton, Price, Col. Brudenell, Penton, and many other Members of Parliament; Judge Hervey and the Poet Laureate, with many other persons of distinction. The healths that were drank were as follows: “The King,” “The Prince, and Royal Family.” “Success to the British arms.” “Omnibus Wiccamicis.” “The two Universities.” “The Correspondent Meeting at Winchester,” by which is meant the company, assembled at the Warden’s lodgings, who that day made a public entertainment at Winchester. “The Master and Scholars.” “Thanks to the old Stewards and the new.” “Mr. Clarke, who was one of the company, and is said to be the oldest Wickamist.” Then the Speaker stood up and finished the toasts, and drank to “the immortal memory of William of Wykeham.” After that, Mr. Fitzherbert sang the song of “Domum,” which was joined by a grand chorus!
We must not forget to add that the festivities of Domum terminate with a ball on the Thursday in Election Week, in St. John’s Rooms. The old Winchester corner at Lord’s Cricket Ground, we regret to think, is deserted now; but we believe that the day will never come when the sons of Wykeham will not
Still in the summer twilight sing their sweet song of home!
Mackenzie E. C. Walcott.
- See vol. v., page 24.