back to the six years which I passed at the Highgate school with very little
pleasure. The head-master, Dr. Dyne, was a capable pedagogue enough, not more
than usually narrow-minded, priggish and conventional. He was a type of the
old-fashioned pedantic school, which looked upon Oxford as the "hub of the
universe," thought the study of Latin and Greek the primary object of our
creation, despised modern languages and foreign countries, and believed
thoroughly in the virtues of corporal punishment. A desperate
"swisher" the doctor, as I had cause to know, and not overburdened, to
my thinking, with tact, judgment, or impartiality. He never liked me, and there
was no particular reason why he should, for I had the theatrical taint ; I was
not a show-boy; I was not going to the university, where I could reflect credit
on my teaching; and I was idle, mischievous, independent.
I must have learned something, for I was at the head of the fifth form when I left, at fifteen years of age ; but I do not suppose what I acquired did me much good. I could read, construe, and parse the principal Latin and Greek poets - I am sure I could not do so now - but of English classics I was wholly ignorant: they formed no portion of the "curriculum." The study of modern language, though not absolutely tabooed, was minimised as much as possible. I do not imagine that the head-master or any of his assistants had ever crossed the Channel, or knew a syllable even of French, for which language their contempt was as great as Mr. Lillyvick's. The learning of French and German was an "extra" not supposed to be in the least necessary to an ordinary education, but to be paid for separately, and to be undergone by the boys, whose foolish parents insisted on their acquiring it, at times when the rest of the school was at play. A snuff-taking old French gentleman came once a week, and sat at the end of a table, while a dozen boys fought round it, larked, and shot paper pellets into his frizzy hair. He had no authority, poor old fellow, and there was no one to keep order; the whole thing was a farce; and had I not had a natural inclination for French study, and an interest in my Télémaque and my Henriade sufficient to induce me to read them in my play-hours and my holidays - interest such as I never could feel in my Homer, Virgil, or Herodotus - I should have left Highgate as ignorant of modern language as did most of my compeers. But though I got little good from it, it is not to be denied that Highgate School, under Dr. Dyne's management, was very successful. Its pupils took scholarships and exhibitions, and good positions later on in the class-lists; and the tone of the school, which under the doctor's predecessors had suffered terribly, was entirely restored by him: a greater feat, it will be allowed, than the quintupling the number of pupils, which Dr. Dyne also accomplished during his régime.
I think I was tolerably popular among my school-fellows. I was in the first eleven at cricket, and, being tall and strong, was a tolerable performer at football and hockey.
Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences, 1885
[chapter on 1836-1847]