Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXVIII - Breaking Up for the Holidays

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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 sucking-dove.
    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?"

source: Charles Maurice Davies, Mystic London, 1875