Page images



No. 472.-JULY, 1922.


Life of Edmond Warre, Headmaster and Provost of Eton College. By C. R. L. Fletcher. Murray, 1922.

A RECENT discussion in the newspapers about the internal economy of school boarding-houses has shown a far from pleasant attitude of the parental mind toward the average schoolmaster; and we all know that in novels and on the stage he is invariably a butt. Yet we may believe that this profession in England is more devoted and more efficient than in any other country. Nevertheless even an Eton public may still be heard to quote Keate's birchings or Hawtrey's affectations as typical of the men. Not till we get biographies or special histories can we correct these crude impressions, finding that Keate, though he failed to flog his way to peace, had a tender heart and was loved at last, or that Hawtrey, for all his rings and frills, was a brave champion of wholesome changes and wider culture. All the more, therefore, do we welcome the present demand for biographies, though indeed in the case of Edmond Warre there was no need for any such explanation.


Two periods only we may perhaps pick out in his career when he might have been misconstrued. Fletcher admits that, as an Assistant Master, he was felt by some juniors to be too intent on his own lines of action; for, having the ear of Dr Hornby without himself bearing the responsibility, he seemed to ride somewhat roughly over contrary ideals, while others thought his influence was thrown too heavily in the scale of Vol. 238.-No. 472.

athletics; certain it is that some of those Masters who afterwards proved their claim to consideration, did fear his candidature for the Headmastership. There was then one House which was undoubtedly among the best in tone and intellectual interest, without any neglect of outdoor activities, and some of our most valuable teachers seemed to hold that this influence might even excuse breaches of school rules. Dr Hornby, one of the best of scholars and the most charming of men, feared the weakening in others of a discipline which he could not always maintain in the School himself; and when he closed this house in 1876 Warre no doubt approved his action as for the good of the School. This added to the uneasiness felt by some about the intellectual prospects of the coming reign, so that a few Masters for this reason and many Collegers, from a narrow clannish prejudice, were not without a lurking fear of Warre's accession, though, as later history seems to prove, there was no one definitely preferable. Mr Fletcher quotes even one of these malcontents as welcoming the new régime 'like a wind from the sea,' robust, cheerful, encouraging, full of consideration, kindness, and refreshment. He found the comfort of working with some one behind him also working with all his might. For the new Headmaster always set all his athleticism below the intellectual side of his duties, and tried to keep it subordinate in the interest of the boys. More than once he schemed for reviving the debates of the Eton Society and requiring a higher standard for membership. True, an astute president might veil immobility by apparent assent, yet it was only because of Warre's respect for liberty that things remained in that quarter much as they were.

I suppose some partisan feeling of this kind to have caused the strange misconception which discolours a book called 'The Oppidan' (Chatto & Windus, 1922), wherein a clever writer, Mr Shane Leslie, would describe the Eton of his day (1899-1902). A curious misreading of the character of his Headmaster goes far to discount the author's judgment of others who figure in that lurid scene. It is a pity, for with all his grave faults of taste, he has a real love of good things, some power of pen, and much evidence of industry. Chapter and verse or schoolboy legend may possibly be quoted for each

deplorable incident, but gathering the scandals of tradition into one experience may produce a grotesque picture, and to show up individuals under slightly disguised names is hardly playing the game. To attack a bad Master or even a bad boy publicly and directly is fair enough if necessary, however distasteful; and no doubt there has been overmuch toleration at Eton for inefficient disciplinarians in Division or House. But to disguise a name is a mean defence, which one cannot resent without fitting a cap. Warre seems to have given offence when meeting the 'Oppidan' and a friend in the playing-fields because he spoke kindly to the latter and ignored the former. The cause need not have been habitual neglect of 'saps.' It may have been insight into character. Had he known the writer's real love of all natural beauty and of Eton chapel with the College buildings, the river and the meadows round, there would have been no lack of greeting.

The other period which may need, not explanation, but all the sympathy and tender pity with which the biographer so gently touches on it, is the long failure of health which gave a somewhat warped impression to those who served Warre only toward the end of his reign. He never was quite the same man after 1896. He had then been Headmaster for twelve years, and he had cruelly tried himself by overwork. It is possible to be a racing oarsman and live leisurely afterwards to a good old age; or one may for years do intellectual work on five or even four hours' sleep; but to combine both efforts requires more than human strength. All that man could do Warre did. Yet when, seven years after his illness, there came the terrible blow of the fire, it found him defenceless. And that catastrophe was not his fault either. Mr Fletcher notes his warning to House Masters in 1889 and 1890. Perhaps he did not see his orders carried out, though it was just the work he would have delighted in. These later years shook the joy and confidence till then almost universal in his reign; and the still sadder time which closed the Provostship and the life tended even more to overlay our memory of the prime with distress and humiliation.

But, before we go further into facts, it is high time to speak of the book. In this biography we have a quite

admirable study of a life of high interest and importance, It is carried out with untiring industry and meticulous care, adorned nevertheless by humour, style, scholarship, and sympathy such as are rarely met with in combination. I believe the closest scrutiny has discovered a wrong accent, or it may be two; yet hours were spent in overhauling them by the most learned doctors of Oxford. Did not Bishop Stubbs see letters and accents in proofs uncurl themselves and shift even after revision? In one of the notes is a word one might wish omitted; in another a sentence must be read with a future verb for a present. The Emperor of Germany' should be the German Emperor (p. 158). Beyond this the writer seems impeccable. It has been said that the pedigree lingers on the threshold, but surely thus much is needed for understanding the man; and it seems an excessive humility which relegates to the notes so much information and so many good stories which would be quite fitly and more pleasantly read in the text.

[ocr errors]

Here and there an old Etonian might add another word of explanation. Cookesley's simile (p. 14) would be helped if it were noted that the Cockloft' was entered by stairs which emerged in the middle of the room. It was really a loft; and the poet's head, heralded by the sound of his feet on the stairs, rose slowly from the horizon of the floor. Warre claimed that the 'chape' (p. 4) in his gryphon's mouth was that of the French King John's sword-sheath, which his ancestor produced to prove his capture of the King at Poictiers, as the Pelham did his broken belt, and the Vane a borrowed gauntlet. On p. 79 the patronage of Madvig and Goodwin was not Warre's peculium so much as a borrowing from Dr Hornby. It is, however, true that among others a future patriot-poet-ambassador did suffer therefrom, and unintentionally so resented it as sorely to wound Warre. Till then I never knew how close to his religion lay his schoolwork with the boys. Compare with this what Archdeacon James says (p. 67) of the acute distress caused him by dishonest work in pupil-room. If I were a sound authority, I would question the censure (p. 119) on Warre as accountant. It was he who prescribed to me, when I began housekeeping, a very elaborate and efficacious form of entries on portentous

« PreviousContinue »