Tom Brown's School Days (6th ed)/Remarks
REMARKS OF THE ILLUSTRATOR ON
PRESENT ASPECTS OF RUGBY SCHOOL
MOST young readers (and many old ones) read a book for the fun it contains, taking no notice of the time when written. A boy will naturally exclaim, after reading the following pages, "What a fine time I'd have if I went to that school!" There is a difference, however, for many things have changed during seventy years or so. If you remember, Tom started before daybreak from the Peacock Inn at Islington on the top of a stage-coach; now you go by railway train. At that time the school was less than half its present size and held only a quarter the number of boys. The pound of candles served to each boy, some of which Martin used to sell for birds' eggs, is no more. Electric lights now guide the many feet along the devious study passages and winding turret stairs. East used to set Tom toasting sausages before the great fireplace, but it could not be done now over steam radiators. The fireplaces are still there, but stoutly covered over with wire and iron bars. The fags, among their present duties, are not made to go down to the kitchen to get hot water for their lords and masters. In short, modern conveniences have replaced the primitive ways of bygone days.
In 1842 lucifer matches had just been invented. Tea and coffee were expensive. It was the custom of that day for boys (old and young) to be served with a pewter mug of beer at their meals, and boys of the "Sixth Form" frequented taverns without restraint. Old traditional customs, in an ancient institution like Rugby, are hard to break. Though Doctor Arnold brushed away many objectionable things in his time, yet even to-day there still remain traces of the old order of things.
The most interesting is that of the school bounds with which every boy soon becomes familiar. In the early days Rugby town (except in the main streets) was ill-protected and poorly lighted, consequently the boys were molested and enticed into undesirable places. Fights were frequent with the town boys, or, as East dubs them, the louts. Out-of-bound maps were placed in the school and other houses to show in what streets the boys could go. In the early days to be caught out of bounds meant a "birching" or five hundred lines of Virgil.
It will be observed that all boys keep on the east side of High Street; or, if cross they must, they cross to their destination at right angles, and so back again. As they go back to the house, each keeps on the side of the road where his own house stands. However muddy the road, none but a "swell" is supposed to turn up his trousers at the bottom.
If a boy is in his first term he must keep his hands out of his pockets. If you see a boy with one hand in, he will, perhaps, be in the second term; after that both may be put in the pockets. The duties of fags are less irksome than once they were, but (such as they are) strictly exacted. They may be called to run errands and make themselves generally useful. The house fags have to "fag out" the "dens" of their superiors, to light their fires, to make toast for them at tea, and so forth. Is any errand to be done, the "Sixth Form" potentate has but to issue forth from his den and shout, "Fag!" Immediately, like the rats of Hamelin City, out rush all the fags of the first term; or, if the word be twice shouted, all those of the first two terms, and so forth. The last fag in gets the job, so their speed may be imagined.
The old "tuck shops" have been replaced by expensive pastry and fruit stores which are crowded with eager buyers during the day and especially after football practice, however sufficient and full is the house supply. No longer do the boys go down to the "Planks and Swifts" on the River Avon for summer bathing; a well-appointed swimming-bath is quite near in the close.
Thus it is that most of the old customs have been abolished or died out. New boys are no longer clodded, cobbed, or chaired.
In regard to costume, according to old documents and prints the boys in early days wore white ducks, short or Eton jackets, and tall hats. To-day the costume is strictly regulated. The jacket for small boys is longer, or what is known as the Marlborough jacket, over which is worn the broad white collar, and the bigger boys wear a cutaway. All are in black, including the tall hat, which is worn at the present time by young and old on Sundays only. Week-days each house is denoted by the varied colored caps or straw-hat ribbons, and the same with football and cricket costume.