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BREAKING UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS.
UNROMANTIC as it sounds to say it, I know of few things more disgusting than to revisit one's old school after some twenty or thirty years. Let that dubious decade still remain as to the number of years that have elapsed since I left school. In fact, it matters to nobody when I left it ; I revisited it lately. I went to see the boys break up, as I once broke up, and I felt disgusted - not with the school, or the breaking up, but with myself. I felt disgracefully old. In fact, I went home, and began a poem with these words :-
My years, I feel, are getting on:
Yet, ere the trembling balance kicks, I
Will imitate the dying swan,
And sing an ode threnodic - vixi.
I never got any farther than that. By the way, I shall have to mention
eventually that the school was King's College, in the Strand. I am not
going to unbosom beyond this, or to add, anything in the way of an
autobiography ; but the locale would have to come out anon, and there is
no possible reason for concealment.
[-225-] Well, I went to see them break up for the holidays, and only got over my antediluvian feelings by seeing one of the masters still on the staff who was there when I was a boy. It was a comfort to think what a Methuselah he must be; and yet, if he will excuse the personality, he looked as rosy and smooth-faced as when he used to stand me outside his door with my coat-sleeves turned inside out. It was a way he had. Well, the presence of that particular master made me feel an Adonis forthwith.
I will not go into the prizes. There were lots of them, and they were very nice, and the boys looked very happy, and their mammas legitimately proud. What I want to speak of is the school speeches or recitations, as they are termed. King's College School speeches are, to my thinking, a model of what such things ought to be.
Some schools - I name no names - go in for mere scholastic recitations which nobody understands, and the boys hate. Others burst out in full-blown theatricals. King's College acts on the motto, Medio tutissimus ibis. It keeps the old scholastic recitations, but gilds the pill by adding the accessory of costume. I can quote Latin as well as Dr. Pangloss, and certain lines were running in my mind all the time I was in King's College Hall. They were
Pueris olim dant crostula blandi
Doctores, elementa velint ut discere prima.
First we had a bit of German in the shape of an ex-[-226-]tract
from Kotzebue's "Die Schlaue Wittwe," or "Temperaments." I
wish I had my programme, I would compliment by name the lad who played the
charming young Frau. Suffice it to say the whole thing went off sparkling
like a firework. It was short, and made you wish for more - a great virtue
in speeches and sermons. The dancing-master was perfect. Then came a
bit of Colman's " Heir at Law." Dr. Pangloss - again I regret
the absence of the programme - was a creation, and - notwithstanding
the proximity of King's College to the Strand Theatre - the youth wisely
abstained from copying even so excellent a model as Mr. Clarke. Of
course, the bits of Latinity came out with a genuine scholastic
ring. Then a bit of a Greek play, at which - mirabile dictu !- everybody
laughed, and with which everybody was pleased. And why ? Because the
adjuncts of costume and properties added to the correct enunciation of the
text, prevented even those, who knew little Latin and less Greek, from
being one moment in the dark as to what was going on. The passage
was one from the "Birds" of Aristophanes ; and the fact of a
treaty being concluded between the Olympians and terrestrials, led to the
introduction of some interpolations as to the Washington Treaty,
which, when interpreted by the production of the American flag and English
Union Jack, brought down thunders of applause. The final chorus was sung
to "Yankee Doodle," and accompanied by a fiddle. [-227-]
The acting and accessories were perfect; and what poor Robson used to term
the "horgan" of Triballos, was wonderful. That youth would be a
nice young man for a small tea party. It is to be hoped that, like
Bottom the weaver, he can modulate his voice, and roar as gently as any
Most wonderful, however, of all the marvels that met me at my old school - was a scene from the " Critic," played by the most Lilliputian boys. Puff - played by Powell (I don't forget that name) - was simply marvellous. And yet Powell, if he will forgive me for saying so, was the merest whipper-snapper. Sir Christopher Hatton could scarcely have emerged from the nursery; and yet the idea of utter stolidity never found a better exponent than that same homeopathic boy. Last of all came the conventional scene from Moliere's "L'Avare." Maitre Jacques was good ; Harpagon more than good. I came away well satisfied, only regretting I had not brought my eldest boy to see it. My eldest boy! Egad, and I was just such as he is now, when I used to creep like a snail unwillingly to those scholastic shades. The spirit of Pangloss came upon me again as I thought of all I had seen that day,- there was nothing like it in my day. King's College keeps pace with the times. " Tempora mutantur !" I mentally exclaimed ; and added, not without a pleasant scepticism, as I gazed once more on the pippin-faced master, "I wonder whether - nos mutamur in illis?"