Read CHAPTER III - HARROVIANA of Fifteen Chapters of Autobiography , free online book, by George William Erskine Russell, on

“I may have failed, my School may fail;
I tremble, but thus much I dare;
I love her. Let the critics rail,
My brethren and my home are there.”

Everyone who travels by the North Western, or the Great Central, or the Midland Railway, must be conversant with the appearance of that “Pinnacle perched on a Precipice,” which was Charles II.’s idea of the Visible Church on Earth-the Parish Church of Harrow on the Hill. Anselm consecrated it, Becket said Mass in it, and John Lyon, the Founder of Harrow School, lies buried in it. When I was a Harrow boy, the Celebrations of the Holy Communion in the School Chapel were rare, and generally late; so some of us were accustomed to communicate every Sunday at the 8 o’clock service in the Parish Church. But even in holy places, and amid sacred associations, the ludicrous is apt to assert itself; and I could never sufficiently admire a tablet in the North aisle, commemorating a gentleman who died of the first Reform Bill.


Judge of the Admiralty in Ireland.
Without an equal at the University, a rival at the Bar,
Or a superior in chaste and classic eloquence in Parliament.
Honoured, Revered, Admired, Beloved, Deplored,
By the Irish Bar, the Senate and his country,
He sunk beneath the efforts of a mind too great for
His earthly frame,
In opposing the Revolutionary Invasion of the Religion and
Constitution of England,
On the 29th of September, 1831, in the 44th year of his age.”

Alas! poor Mr. North. What would he have felt if he had lived to see the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1885? Clearly he was taken away from the evil to come.

Until the Metropolitan Railway joined Harrow to Baker Street, the Hill stood in the midst of genuine and unspoilt country, separated by five miles of grass from the nearest point of London, and encompassed by isolated dwellings, ranging in rank and scale from villas to country houses. Most of these have fallen victims to the Speculative Builder, and have been cut up into alleys of brick and stucco, though one or two still remain among their hay-fields and rhododendrons. When I first ascended Harrow Hill, I drove there from London with my mother; and, from Harlesden onwards, our road lay between grass meadows, and was shaded by hedgerow timber. Harrow was then a much prettier place than it is now. The far-seen elms under which Byron dreamed were still in their unlopped glory, and the whole effect of the Hill was wooded. So an Eton man and Harrow master wrote:-

Collis incola frondei
Nympha, sive lubentius
Nostra Pieris audies,
Lux adest; ades O tuis

Herga mater, alumnis!”

“Goddess of the leafy Hill,
Nymph, or Muse, or what you will,
With the light begins the lay,-
Herga, be our guest to-day.”

The site now covered by the externally hideous Speech-room-a cross between a swimming-bath and a tennis-court-was then a garden. In truth, it only grew strawberries and cabbages, but to the imaginative eye, it was as beautiful as the hanging pleasaunces of Semiramis.

Dr. Butler, with a hundred gifts and accomplishments, had no aesthetic or artistic sense; and, under his rule, the whole place was over-run by terrible combinations of red and black brick; and the beautiful view from the School-Yard, stretching away across the Uxbridge plain, was obstructed by some kind of play-shed, with a little spout atop-the very impertinence of ugliness.

Of the various buildings at Harrow, by far the most interesting is what is now called “The Fourth Form Room,” in the West wing of the Old School. It is the original room which John Lyon designed-“A large and convenient school-house with a chimney in it,”-and in its appearance and arrangements it exactly bespeaks the village Day School that Harrow originally was. Its stout brick walls have faced the western breezes of three hundred years, and in their mellow richness of tint remind one of Hatfield House and Hampton Court. This single room has been the nucleus round which all subsequent buildings-Chapel and Library and School-Rooms and Boarding-Houses-have gathered; and, as long as it exists, Harrow will be visibly and tangibly connected with its Founder’s prescient care.

John Lyon knew nothing of Conscience Clauses. He ordained that all his school-boys should attend the Parish Church; and so they did, stowed away in galleries where hearing was difficult and kneeling impossible. In 1836 Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, was elected Head-master of Harrow, in succession to the genial but too gentle Longley. Seeing that Worship was practically impossible for the boys under existing conditions, he set to work to build a Chapel. It occupied the same site as the present Chapel, but only one fragment of it remains, embedded in the West wall of Sir Gilbert Scott’s more graceful structure. The Chapel was consecrated by the Visitor, Archbishop Howley, in 1839. Dr. Wordsworth, justly proud of his handiwork, invited his brother-master, Dr. Hawtrey of Eton, to view it. Much to Wordsworth’s surprise, Hawtrey did not take off his hat on entering the Chapel; but, when he neared the altar, started back in confusion, and exclaimed, in hasty apology, “I assure you, my dear friend, I had no notion that we were already inside the Sacred Edifice.”

So much for the aesthetics of Harrow Chapel as originally constructed, but time and piety have completely changed it. In 1855, Dr. Vaughan added a Chancel with an apsidal end, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. Next, the central passage of the Chapel became a Nave, with pillars and a North Aisle. Then the South Aisle was added, and decorated with glass before which one shudders, as a Memorial to Harrow men who fell in the Crimea. So the Chapel remained till 1903, when two curious additions, something between transepts and side-chapels, were added in memory of Harrow men who fell in South Africa. The total result of these successive changes is a building of remarkably irregular shape, but richly decorated, and sanctified by innumerable memories of friends long since loved and lost. A tablet, near which as a new boy I used to sit, bears this inscription-

In mournful and
affectionate remembrance of
Scholar of Balliol College, Oxford,
and formerly Head of this School.
He passed through the Strait Gate
of Humility, Toil, and Patience,
into the clear light and true knowledge of Him
Who is our Peace.

“If any man will do His Will, he shall know of the doctrine.”

Few sermons have ever impressed me so powerfully as this significant memorial of a life which lasted only nineteen years.

The morning and evening services in the Chapel were what is called “bright and cheerful”-in other words, extremely noisy and not very harmonious or reverent. We had two sermons every Sunday. The Head-master preached in the evening; the Assistant-masters in the morning. Occasionally, we had a stranger of repute. Dr. Butler’s preaching I have already described, and also that of Farrar and Westcott. Mr. Steel’s traditional discourses were in a class by themselves. But other preachers we had, not less remarkable. I distinctly remember a sermon by Mr. Sticktoright, who told us that we did not know in what way the world would be destroyed-it might be by fire, or it might be by water (though this latter alternative seems precluded by Genesis i. The Rev. James Robertson, afterwards Head-master of Haileybury, compared the difference between a dull boy and a clever boy to that between an ox and a dog. “To the ox, the universe comprises only the impassive blue above, and the edible green beneath; while the dog finds a world of excitement in hunting, and a demi-god in man.” Dean Stanley, preaching on Trinity Sunday, 1868, thus explained away the doctrine of the Trinity-“God the Father is God in Nature. God the Son is God in History. God the Holy Ghost is God in the Conscience.” And Thring of Uppingham bellowed an exposition of Psalm lxxvii with such surprising vigour that he acquired among us the affectionate nickname of “Old Sheepfolds.” It is a pleasure to place in contrast with these absurdities the truly pastoral and moving sermons of Mr. John Smith, whose apostolic work at Harrow I have already commemorated. His paraphrase of 1. St. Peter i-8 still lingers in my ear-“Be watchful, be prayerful, be very kind.” He is thus described on a Memorial Tablet in the Chapel:

To the Young a Father,
To friends in joy or grief a Brother,
To the poor, the suffering, and the tempted,
A minister of Hope and Strength.
Tried by more than common sorrows,
And upborne by more than common faith,
His holy life interpreted to many
The Mind which was in Christ Jesus,
The Promise of the Comforter,
And the Vision granted to the Pure in Heart.

It may seem odd that one should remember so much about sermons preached so long ago, but Bishop Welldon’s testimony illustrates the point. “When I came to Harrow, I was greatly struck by the feeling of the boys for the weekly Sermon; they looked for it as an element in their lives, they attended to it, and passed judgment upon it.” (I may remark in passing that Dr. Welldon promptly and wisely reduced the Sunday Sermons from two to one.)

But the day of days in Harrow Chapel was Founder’s Day, October 10th, 1868, when the preacher at the Commemoration Service was Liddon, who had lately become famous by the Bampton Lectures of 1866. The scene and the sermon can never be forgotten. Prayers and hymns and thanksgivings for Founder and Benefactors had been duly performed, and we had listened with becoming solemnity to that droll chapter about “Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing.” When the preacher entered the pulpit, his appearance instantly attracted attention. We had heard vaguely of him as “the great Oxford swell,” but now that we saw him we felt a livelier interest. “He looks like a monk,” one boy whispers to his neighbour; and indeed it is a better description than the speaker knows. The Oxford M.A. gown, worn over a cassock, is the Benedictine habit modified by time and place; the spare, thin figure suggests asceticism; the beautifully chiselled, sharply-pointed features, the close-shaved face, the tawny skin, the jet-black hair, remind us vaguely of something by Velasquez or Murillo, or of Ary Scheffer’s picture of St. Augustine. And the interest aroused by sight is intensified by sound. The vibrant voice strikes like an electric shock. The exquisite, almost over-refined, articulation seems the very note of culture. The restrained passion which thrills through the disciplined utterance warns even the most heedless that something quite unlike the ordinary stuff of school-sermons is coming. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” The speaker speaks of the blessedness and glory of boyhood; the splendid inheritance of a Public School built on Christian lines; the unequalled opportunities of learning while the faculties are still fresh and the mind is still receptive; the worthlessness of all merely secular attainment, however desirable, however necessary, when weighed in the balance against “the one thing needful.” The congregation still are boys, but soon they will be men. Dark days will come, as Ecclesiastes warned-dark in various ways and senses, darkest when, at the University or elsewhere, we first are bidden to cast faith aside and to believe nothing but what can be demonstrated by “an appeal, in the last resort, to the organs of sense.” Now is the time, and this is the place, so to “remember our Creator” that, come what may, we shall never be able to forget Him, or doubt His love, or question His revelation. The preacher leans far out from the pulpit, spreading himself, as it were, over the congregation, in an act of benediction. “From this place may Christ ever be preached, in the fulness of His creative, redemptive, and sacramental work. Here may you learn to remember Him in the days of your youth, and, in the last and most awful day of all, may He remember you.”

Five minutes afterwards we are in the open air. Boys stare and gasp; masters hurry past, excited and loquacious. Notes are compared, and watches consulted. Liddon has preached for an hour, and the school must go without its dinner.

Enough has now been said about the Chapel and its memories. I must now turn to lighter themes. I remember once hearing Mrs. Procter, who was born in 1799 and died in 1888, say casually at a London dinner-party, when someone mentioned Harrow Speech-Day-“Ah! that used to be a pleasant day. The last time I was there I drove down with Lord Byron and Doctor Parr, who had been breakfasting with my step-father, Basil Montagu.” This reminiscence seemed to carry one back some way, but I entirely agreed with Mrs. Procter. Speech-Day at Harrow has been for more than forty years one of my favourite holidays. In my time the present Speech-Room did not exist. The old Speech-Room, added to John Lyon’s original building in 1819, was a well-proportioned hall, with panelled walls and large windows. Tiers of seats rose on three sides of the room; on the fourth was the platform, and just opposite the platform sat the Head-master, flanked right and left by distinguished visitors. There was a triumphal arch of evergreens over the gate, and the presence of the Beadle of the Parish Church, sumptuous in purple and gold, pointed to the historic but obsolescent connexion between the Parish and the School. The material of the “Speeches,” so-called, was much the same as that provided at other schools-Shakespeare, Sheridan, Chatham, Aristophanes, Plautus, Moliere, Schiller. An age-long desire to play the Trial in Pickwick was only attained, under the liberal rule of Dr. Wood, in 1909. At the Speeches, one caught one’s first glimpse of celebrities whom one was destined to see at closer quarters in the years to come; and I never can forget the radiant beauty of “Spencer’s Faery Queen," as I saw her at the Speeches of 1869.

While I am speaking of Celebrities, I must make a short digression from Speech-Day to Holidays. Dr. Vaughan, some time Head-master of Harrow and afterwards Dean of Llandaff, was in 1868 Vicar of Doncaster. My only brother was one of his curates; the Vaughans asked my mother to stay with them at the Vicarage, in order that she might see her son, then newly ordained, at his work; and, the visit falling in the Harrow holidays, they good-naturedly said that she might bring me with her. Dr. Vaughan was always exceedingly kind to boys, and one morning, on our way back from the daily service, he said to me-“Sir Grosvenor Le Draughte has proposed to break his journey here, on his return from Scotland. Do you know him? No? Well-observe Sir Grosvenor. He is well worthy of observation. He is exactly what the hymn-book calls ’a worldling.’” The day advanced, and no Sir Grosvenor appeared. The Doctor came into the drawing-room repeatedly, asking if “that tiresome old gentleman had arrived,” and Mrs. Vaughan plied him with topics of consolation-“Perhaps he has missed his train. Perhaps there has been an accident. Perhaps he has been taken ill on the journey”-but the Doctor shook his head and refused to be comforted. After dinner, we sat in an awe-struck silence, while the Vaughans, knowing the hour at which the last train from Scotland came in, and the length of time which it took to drive from the station, listened with ears erect. Presently the wheels of a fly came rumbling up, and Dr. Vaughan, exclaiming, “Our worst anticipations are realized!” hurried to the front door. Then, welcoming the aged traveller with open arms, he said in his blandest tones-“Now, my dear Sir Grosvenor, I know you must be dreadfully tired. You shall go to bed at once.” Sir Grosvenor, who longed to sit up till midnight, telling anecdotes and drinking brandy-and-water, feebly remonstrated; but the remorseless Doctor led his unwilling captive upstairs. It was a triumph of the Suaviter in modo, and gave me an impressive lesson on the welcome which awaits self-invited guests, even when they are celebrities. But all this is a parenthesis.

I should be shamefully ungrateful to a place of peculiar enjoyment if I forbore to mention the Library at Harrow. It was opened in 1863, as a Memorial of Dr. Vaughan’s Head-mastership, and its delicious bow-window, looking towards Hampstead, was my favourite resort. On whole-holidays, when others were playing cricket, I used to read there for hours at a stretch; and gratified my insatiable thirst for Biographies, Memoirs, and Encyclopaedias. The Library was also the home of the Debating Society, and there I moved, forty-two years ago, that a Hereditary Legislative Body is incompatible with free institutions; and supported the present Bishop of Oxford in declaring that a Republic is the best form of Government. The mention of the Debating Society leads me to the subject of Politics. I have said in a former chapter that the Conservative Reform Bill of 1867 was the first political event which interested me. It was a stirring time all over the world, in France, in Italy, and in Mexico. There were rebellions and rumours of rebellion. Monarchical institutions were threatened. Secret Societies were in full activity. The whole social order seemed to be passing through a crisis, and I, like the Abbe Sieyes, fell to framing constitutions; my favourite scheme being a Republic, with a President elected for life, and a Legislature chosen by universal suffrage. But all these dreams were dispelled by the realities of my new life at Harrow, and, for a while, I perforce thought more of Imperial than of Papal Rome, of Greek than of English Republics. But in the summer of 1868, Mr. Gladstone’s first attack on the Irish Church caused such an excitement as I had never before known. It was a pitched battle between the two great Parties of the State, and I was an enthusiastic follower of the Gladstonian standard. In November 1868 came the General Election which was to decide the issue. Of course Harrow, like all other schools, was Tory as the sea is salt. Out of five hundred boys, I can only recall five who showed the Liberal colour. These were the present Lord Grey; Walter Leaf, the Homeric Scholar; W. A. Meek, now Recorder of York; M. G. Dauglish, who edited the “Harrow Register,” and myself. On the polling day I received my “Baptism of Fire,” or rather of mud, being rolled over and over in the attempt to tear my colours from me. The Tory colour was red; the Liberal was blue; and my mother, chancing to drive through Harrow with the light blue carriage-wheels which my family have always used, was playfully but loudly hissed by wearers of the red rosette. Among the masters, political opinion was divided. Mr. Young, whom I quoted just now, was a Liberal, and a Tory boy called Freddy Bennet (brother of the present Lord Tankerville) covered himself with glory by pinning a red streamer to the back of Young’s gown while he was calling “Bill.”

In the following year our Politics found a fresh vent through the establishment of The Harrovian. I had dabbled in composition ever since I was ten, and had printed both prose and verse before I entered Harrow School. So here was a heaven-sent contributor, and one morning, in the autumn of 1869, as I was coming out of First School, one of the Editors overtook me and said-

“We want you to contribute to The Harrovian. We are only going to employ fellows who can write English-not such stuff as ’The following boys were given prizes.’” Purism indeed!

Here began my journalistic career. For three years I wrote a considerable part of the paper, and I was an Editor during my last year, in conjunction with my friends Dumbar Barton and Walter Sichel.

Harrow is sometimes said to be the most musical of Public Schools; and certainly our School Songs have attained a wide popularity. I believe that “Forty Years on” is sung all over the world. But, when I went to Harrow, we were confined to the traditional English songs and ballads, and to some Latin ditties by Bradby and Westcott, which we bellowed lustily but could not always construe. E. E. Bowen’s stirring, though often bizarre, compositions (admirably set to music by John Farmer) began soon after I entered the school, and E. W. Howson’s really touching and melodious verses succeeded Bowens’ some ten years after I had left. Other song-writers, of greater or less merit, we have had; but from first to last, the thrilling spell of a Harrow concert has been an experience quite apart from all other musical enjoyments. “The singing is the thing. When you hear the great body of fresh voices leap up like a lark from the ground, and rise and swell and swell and rise till the rafters seem to crack and shiver, then you seem to have discovered all the sources of feeling.” This was the tribute of a stranger, and an Harrovian has recorded the same emotion:-“John was singing like a lark, with a lark’s spontaneous delight in singing; with an ease and self-abandonment which charmed eye almost as much as ear. Higher and higher rose the clear, sexless notes, till two of them met and mingled in a triumphant trill. To Desmond, that trill was the answer to the quavering, troubled cadences of the first verse; the vindication of the spirit soaring upwards unfettered by the flesh-the pure spirit, not released from the human clay without a fierce struggle. At that moment Desmond loved the singer-the singer who called to him out of heaven, who summoned his friend to join him, to see what he saw-’the vision splendid.’"

I am conscious that, so far, I have treated the Moloch of Athletics with such scant respect that his worshippers may doubt if I ever was really a boy. Certainly my physical inability to play games was rendered less bitter by the fact that I did not care about them. I well remember the astonishment of my tutor, when he kindly asked me to luncheon on his carriage at my first Eton and Harrow match, and I replied that I should not be there.

“Not be at Lord’s, my boy? How very strange! Why?”

“Because there are three things which I particularly dislike-heat, and crowds, and cricket.” It certainly was a rather priggish answer, but let me say in self-defence that before I left the school I had become as keen on “Lord’s,” as the best of my compeers.

That, in spite of his reprehensible attitude towards our national game, I was still, as Mr. Chadband said, “a human boy,” is proved by the intense interest with which I beheld the one and only “Mill” which ever took place while I was at Harrow. It was fought on the 25th of February, 1868, with much form and ceremony. The “Milling-ground,” now perverted to all sorts of base uses, is immediately below the School-Yard. The ground slopes rapidly, so that the wall of the Yard forms the gallery of the Milling-Ground. The moment that “Bill” was over, I rushed to the wall and secured an excellent place, leaning my elbows on the wall, while a friend, who was a moment later, sat on my shoulders and looked over my bowed head. It would be indiscreet to mention the names of the combatants, though I remember them perfectly. One was a red-headed giant; the other short, dark, and bow-legged. Neither had at all a pleasant countenance, and I must admit that I enjoyed seeing them pound each other into pulp. I felt that two beasts were getting their deserts. To-day such a sight would kill me; but this is the degeneracy of old age.

Now that I am talking about school-fellows, several names call for special mention. As I disliked athletics, it follows that I did not adore athletes. I can safely say that I never admired a boy because of his athletic skill, though I have admired many in spite of it. Probably Sidney Pelham, Archdeacon of Norfolk, who was in the Harrow Eleven in 1867 and 1868, and the Oxford Eleven in 1871, will never see this book; so I may safely say that I have seldom envied anyone as keenly as I envied him, when Dr. Butler, bidding him farewell before the whole school, thanked him for “having set an example which all might be proud to follow-unfailing sweetness of temper, and perfect purity of life.” In one respect, the most conspicuous of my school-fellows was H.R.H. Prince Thomas of Savoy, Duke of Genoa, nephew of Victor Emmanuel, and now an Admiral in the Italian Navy. He came to Harrow in 1869, and lived with Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Arnold. He was elected King of Spain by a vote of the Cortes on the 3rd of October 1869. He was quite a popular boy, and no one had the slightest grudge against him; but, for all that, everyone made a point of kicking him, in the hope of being able to say in after-life that they had kicked the King of Spain. Unfortunately Victor Emmanuel, fearing dynastic complications, forbade him to accept the Crown; so he got all the Harrow kicks and none of the Spanish half-pence. When I entered Harrow, the winner of all the classical prizes was Andrew Graham Murray, now Lord Dunedin and Lord President of the Court of Session; a most graceful scholar, and also a considerable mathematician. Just below him was Walter Leaf, to whom no form of learning came amiss; who was as likely to be Senior Wrangler as Senior Classic, and whose performances in Physical Science won the warm praise of Huxley. Of the same standing as these were Arthur Evans, the Numismatist, Frank Balfour, the Physiologist, and Gerald Rendall, Head-master of Charterhouse. Among my contemporaries the most distinguished was Charles Gore, whose subsequent career has only fulfilled what all foresaw; and just after him came (to call them by their present names) Lord Crewe, Lord Ribblesdale, Lord Spencer, Mr. Justice Barton of the Irish Bench, and Mr. Walter Long, in whom Harrow may find her next Prime Minister. Walter Sichel was at seventeen the cleverest school-boy whom I have ever known. Sir Henry McKinnon obtained his Commission in the Guards while he was still in the Fifth Form. Pakenham Beatty was the Swinburnian of the school, then, as now, a true Poet of Liberty. Ion Keith-Falconer, Orientalist and missionary, was a saint in boyhood as in manhood. Edward Eyre seemed foreordained to be what in London and in Northumberland he has been-the model Parish-Priest; and my closest friend of all was Charles Baldwyn Childe-Pemberton, who, as Major Childe, fell at the battle of Spion Kop, on a spot now called, in honour of his memory, “Childe’s Hill.” De minimis non curat Respublica; which, being interpreted, signifies-The Commonwealth will not care to know the names of the urchins who fagged for me. But I cherish an ebony match-box carved and given to me by one of these ministering spirits, as a proof that, though my laziness may have made me exacting, my exactions were not brutal.

On the 15th of June, 1871, Harrow School celebrated the three-hundredth anniversary of its foundation. Harrovians came from every corner of the globe to take part in this Tercentenary Festival. The arrangements were elaborated with the most anxious care. The Duke of Abercorn, affectionately and appropriately nicknamed “Old Splendid,” presided over a banquet in the School-Yard; and the programme of the day’s proceedings had announced, rather to the terror of intending visitors, that after luncheon there would be “speeches, interspersed with songs, from three hundred and fifty of the boys.” The abolition of the second comma dispelled the dreadful vision of three-hundred-and-fifty school-boy-speeches, and all went merry as a marriage-bell-all, except the weather. It seemed as if the accumulated rain of three centuries were discharged on the devoted Hill. It was raining when we went to the early celebration in the Chapel; it was raining harder when we came out. At the culminating moment of the day’s proceedings, when Dr. Vaughan was proposing “Prosperity to Harrow,” the downpour and the thunder drowned the speaker’s voice; and, when evening fell on the sodden cricket-ground, the rain extinguished the fireworks.

On that same cricket-ground nine days later, in the golden afternoon of Midsummer Day, George Clement Cottrell, a boy beautiful alike in face and in character, was killed in an instant by a blow from a ball, which struck him behind the ear when he was umpiring in the Sixth Form game. On the 29th of June his five hundred school-fellows followed him to his resting-place in the Churchyard on the Hill, and I believe we unanimously felt that he whom we had lost was the one, of all our number, of whom we could say, with the surest confidence, that he was fit to pass, without a moment’s warning, into the invisible World. Beati mundo corde.