If I tried my best, it would take a year to describe the life in that English Grammar School at R. I had always been perfectly happy in every Irish school and especially in the Royal School at Armagh. Let me give one difference as briefly as possible. When I whispered in the class-room in Ireland, the master would frown at me and shake his head; ten minutes later I was talking again, and he’d hold up an admonitory finger: the third time he’d probably say, “Stop talking, Harris, don’t you see you’re disturbing your neigbour? Half an hour later in despair he’d cry, “If you still talk, I’ll have to punish you”.
Ten minutes afterwards: “You’re incorrigible, Harris, come up here” and I’d have to go and stand beside his desk for the rest of the morning, and even this light punishment did not happen more than twice a week, and as I came to be head of my class, it grew rarer.
In England, the procedure was quite different. “That new boy there is talking; take 300 lines to write out and keep quiet”.
“Please, Sir”, I’d pipe up — “Take 500 lines and keep quiet”.
“But, Sir” — in remonstrance.
“Take 1000 lines and if you answer again, I’ll send you to the Doctor” — which meant I’d get a caning or a long talking to.
The English masters one and all ruled by punishment; consequently I was indoors writing out lines almost every day, and every half — holiday for the first year. Then my father, prompted by Vernon, complained to the Doctor that writing out lines was ruining my handwriting.
After that I was punished by lines to learn by heart; the lines quickly grew into pages, and before the end of the first half year it was found that I knew the whole school history of England by heart, through these punishments. Another remonstrance from my father, and I was given lines of Vergil to learn. Thank God! that seemed worth learning and the story of Ulysses and Dido on “the wild sea — banks” became a series of living pictures to me, not to be dimmed even, so long as I live.
That English school for a year and a half was to me a brutal prison with stupid daily punishments. At the end of that time I was given a seat by myself, thanks to the Mathematical master; but that’s another story.
The two or three best boys of my age in England were far more advanced than I was in Latin and had already waded through half the Greek Grammar, which I had not begun, but I was better in Mathematics than any one in the whole lower school. Because I was behind the English standard in languages, the Form-master took me to be stupid and called me “stupid”, and as a result I never learned a Latin or Greek lesson in mv two and a half years in the Grammar School. Nevertheless, thanks to the punishment of having to learn Vergil and Livy by heart, I was easily the best of my age in Latin too, before the second year was over.
I had an extraordinary verbal memory. The Doctor, I remember, once mouthed out some lines of the “Paradise Lost” and told us in his pompous way that Lord Macaulay knew the “Paradise Lost” by heart from beginning to end. I asked: “Is that hard, Sir!” “When you’ve learned half of it”, he replied, “you’ll understand how hard! Lord Macaulay was a genius”, and he emphasized the “Lord” again.
A week later when the Doctor again took the school in literature, I said at the end of the hour: “Please, Sir, I know the ‘Paradise Lost’ by heart”; he tested me and I remember how he looked at me afterwards from head to foot as if asking himself where I had put all the learning. This “piece of impudence”, as the older boys called it, brought me several cuffs and kicks from boys in the Sixth, and much ill-will from many of the others.
All English school life was summed up for me in the “fagging”. There was “fagging” in the Royal School in Armagh, but it was kindly. If you wanted to get out of it for a long walk with a chum, you had only to ask one of the Sixth and you got permission to skip it.
But in England the rule was Rhadamanthine; the fags’ names on duty were put up on a blackboard, and if you were not on time, ay, and servile to boot, you’d get a dozen from an ash plant on your behind and not laid on perfunctorily and with distaste, as the Doctor did it, but with vim so that I had painful weals on my backside and couldn’t sit down for days without a smart.
The fags too, being young and weak, were very often brutally treated just for fun. On Sunday mornings in summer, for instance, we had an hour longer in bed. I was one of the half dozen juniors in the big bedroom; there were two older boys in it, one at each end, presumably to keep order; but in reality to teach lechery and corrupt their younger favorites. If the mothers of England knew what goes on in the dormitories of these boarding-schools throughout England, they would all be closed, from Eton and Harrow upwards or downwards, in a day. If English fathers even had brains enough to understand that the fires of sex need no stoking in boyhood, they too would protect their sons from the foul abuse. But I shall come back to this. Now I wish to speak of the crueltv.
Every form of cruelty was practiced on the younger, weaker and more nervous boys. I remember one Sunday morning, the half-dozen older boys pulled one bed along the wall and forced all the seven younger boys underneath it, beating with sticks any hand or foot that showed. One little fellow cried that he couldn’t breathe and at once the gang of tormentors began stuffing up all the apertures, saying that they would make a “Black Hole” of it. There were soon cries and strugglings under the bed and at length one of the youngest began shrieking so that the torturers ran away from the prison, fearing lest some master should hear.
One wet Sunday afternoon in midwinter, a little nervous “Mother’s darling” from the West Indies who always had a cold and was always sneaking near the fire in the big schoolroom, Avas caught by two of the Fifth and held near the flames. Two more brutes pulled his trowsers tight over his bottom, and the more he squirmed and begged to be let go, the tighter they held the trowsers and the nearer the flames he was pushed, till suddenly the trowsers split apart scorched through, and as the little fellow tumbled forward screaming, the torturers realized that they had gone too far. The little “Nigger” as he was called, didn’t tell how he came to be so scorched but took his fortnight in sick bay as a respite.
We read of a fag at Shrewsbury who was thrown into a bath of boiling water by some older boys because he liked to take his bath very warm; but this experiment turned out badly, for the little fellow died and the affair could not be hushed up, though it was finally dismissed as a regrettable accident.
The English are proud of the fact that they hand over a good deal of the school discipline to the older boys: they attribute this innovation to Arnold of Rugby and, of course, it is possible if the supervision is kept up by a genius, that it may work for good and not for evil; but usually it turns the school into a forcing-house of cruelty and immorality. The older boys establish the legend that only sneaks would tell anything to the masters, and then they are free to give rein to their basest instincts.
The two Monitors in our big bedroom in my time were a strapping big fellow named Dick F . . ., who tired all the little boys by going into their beds and making them frig him till his semen came. The little fellows all hated to be covered with his filthy slime, but they had to pretend to like doing as he told them, and usually he insisted on frigging them by way of exciting himself. Dick picked me out once or twice but I managed to catch his semen on his own night-shirt, and so after calling me a “dirty little devil” he left me alone.
The other monitor was Jones, a Liverpool boy of about seventeen, very backward in lessons but very strong, the “Cock” of the school at fighting. He used always to go to one young boy’s bed whom he favored in many ways. Henry H . . . used to be able to get off any fagging and he never let out what Jones made him do at night, but in the long run he got to be chums with another little fellow and it all came out. One night when Jones was in Henry’s bed, there was a shriek of pain and Jones was heard to be kissing and caressing his victim for nearly an hour afterwards. We all wondered whether Jones had had him, or what had happened. Henry’s chum one day let the cat out of the bag. It appeared that Jones used to make the little fellow take his sex in his mouth and frig him and suck him at the same time. But one evening he had brought up some butter and smeared it over his prick and gradually inserted it into Henry’s anus and this came to be his ordinary practice. But this night he had forgotten the butter and when he found a certain resistance, he thrust violently forward, causing extreme pain and making his pathic bleed. Henry screamed and so after an interval of some weeks or months the whole procedure came to be known.
If there had been no big boys as Monitors, there would still have been a certain amount of solitary frigging; from twelve or thirteen on, most boys and most girls too, practice self-abuse from time to time on some slight provocation, but the practice doesn’t often become habitual unless it is fostered by one’s elders and practiced mutually. In Ireland it was sporadic; in England perpetual and in English schools it often led to downright sodomy as in this instance.
In my own case there were two restraining influences, and I wish to dwell on both as a hint. to parents. I was a very eager little athlete: thanks to instructions and photographs in a book, on athletics belonging to Vernon, I found out how to jump and how to run. To jump high one had to take but a short run from the side and straighten oneself horizontally as one cleared the bar. By constant practice I could at thirteen walk under the bar and then jump it. I soon noticed that if I frigged myself the night before, I could not jump so well, the consequence being that I restrained myself, and never frigged save on Sunday and soon managed to omit the practice on three Sundays out of four.
Since I came to understanding, I have always been grateful to that exercise for this lesson in self-restraint. Besides, one of the boys was always frigging himself: even in school he kept his right hand in his trousers’ pocket and continued the practice. All of us knew that he had torn a hole in his pocket so that he could play with his cock; but none of the masters ever noticed anything. The little fellow grew gradually paler and paler until he took to crying in a corner, and unaccountable nervous tremblings shook him for a quarter of an hour at a time. At length, be was taken away by his parents: what became of him afterwards, I don’t know, but I do know that till he was taught self-abuse, he was one of the quickest boys of his age at lessons and given like myself to much reading.
This object-lesson in consequences had little effect on me at the time; but later it was useful as a warning. Such teaching may have affected the Spartans as we read in history that they taught their children temperance by showing them a drunken helot; but I want to lay stress on the fact I was first taught self-control by a keen desire to excel in jumping and in running, and as soon as I found that I couldn’t run as fast or jump as high after practicing self-abuse, I began to restrain myself and in return this had a most potent effect on my will-power.
I was over thirteen when a second and still stronger restraining influence made itself felt, and strangely enough this influence grew through my very desire for girls and curiosity about them.
The story marks an epoch in my life. We were taught singing at school and when it was found that I had a good alto voice and a very good ear, I was picked to sing solos, both in school and in the church choir. Before every church festival there was a good deal of practice with the organist, and girls from neighbouring houses joined in our classes. One girl alone sang alto and she and I were separated from the other boys and girls; the upright piano was put across the corner of the room and we two sat of stood behind it almost out of sight of all the other singers; the organist, of course, being seated in front of the piano. The girl E . . . who sang alto with me was about my own age: she was very pretty or seemed so to me, with golden hair and blue eyes and I always made up to her as well as I could, in my boyish way. One day while the organist was explaining something, E . . . stood up on the chair and leant over the back of the piano to hear better or see more. Seated in my chair behind her, I caught sight of her legs; for her dress rucked up behind as she leaned over: at once my breath stuck in my throat. Her legs were lovely, I thought, and the temptation came to touch them; for no one could see,
I got up immediately and stood by the chair she was standing on. Casually I let my hand fall against her left leg. She didn’t draw her leg away or seem to feel my hand, so I touched her more boldly. She never moved, though now I knew she must have felt my hand. I began to slide my hand up her leg and suddenly my fingers felt the warm flesh on her thigh where the stocking ended above the knee. The feel of her warm flesh made me literally choke with emotion: my hand went on up, warmer and warmer, when suddenly I touched her sex: there was soft down on it. The heart-pulse throbbed in my throat. I have no words to describe the intensity of my sensations.
Thank God, E . . . . did not move or show any sign of distaste. Curiosity was stronger even than desire in me; I felt her sex all over and at once the idea came into my head that it was like a fig (the Italians, I learned later, call it familiarly “fica”); it opened at my touches and I inserted my finger gently, as Strangways had told me that Mary had taught him to do; still E . . . . did not move. Gently I rubbed the front part of her sex with my finger. I could have kissed her a thousand times out of passionate gratitude.
Suddenly as I went on, I felt her move and then again; plainly she was showing me where my touch gave her most pleasure: I could have died for her in thanks; again she moved and I could feel a little mound or small button of flesh right in the front of her sex, above the junction of the inner lips: of course it was her clitoris. I had forgotten all the old Methodist doctor’s books till that moment; this fragment of long forgotten knowledge came back to me: gently I rubbed the clitoris and at once she pressed down on my finger for a moment or two. I tried to insert my finger into the vagina; but she drew away at once and quickly, closing her sex as if it hurt, so I went back to caressing her tickler.
Sudden the miracle ceased. The cursed organist had finished his. explanation of the new plain chant, and. as he. touched the first notes on the piano,
E drew her legs together; I took away my hand and she stepped down from the chair: “You darling, darling”, I whispered; but she frowned, and then just gave me a smile out of the corner of her eye to show me she was not displeased.
Ah, how lovely, how seductive she seemed V> me now, a thousand times lovelier and more desirable than ever before. As we stood up to sing again, I whispered to her: “I love you, love you, dear, dear!”
I can never express the passion of gratitude I felt to her for her goodness, her sweetness in letting me touch her sex. E it was who opened the
Gates of Paradise to me and let me first taste the hidden mysteries of sexual delight. Still, after more than fifty years I feel the thrill of the joy she gave me by her response, and the passionate reverence of my gratitude is still alive in me.
This experience with E . ., . had the most important and unlooked for results. The mere fact that girls could feel sex pleasure “just as boys do” increased my liking for them and lifted the whole sexual intercourse to a higher plane in my thought. The excitement and pleasure were so much more intense than anything I had experienced before that I resolved to keep myself for this higher joy. No more self aburc for me; I knew something infinitely better. One kiss was better, one touch of a girl’s sex. That kissing and caressing a girl could inculcate — self — restraint is not taught by our spiritual guides and masters; but is nevertheless true. Another cognate experience came at this time to reinforce the same lesson. I had read all Scott and his heroine Di Vernon made a great impression on me. I resolved now to keep all my passion for some Di Vernon in the future. Thus the first experiences of passion and the reading of a love story completely cured me of the bad habit of self — abuse.
Naturally after this first divine experience, I was on edge for a second and keen as a questing hawk.
I could not see E till the next music-lesson, a week to wait; but even such a week comes to an end, and once more we were imprisoned in our solitude behind the piano; but though I whispered all the sweet and pleading words I could imagine, E . . . did nothing but frown refusal and shake her pretty head. This killed for the moment all my faith in girls: why did she act so? I puzzled my brain for a reasonable answer and found none. It was part of the damned inscrutability of girls but at the moment it filled me with furious anger. I was savage with disappointment.
“You’re mean!” I whispered to her at long last and I would have said more if the organist hadn’t called on me for a solo which I sang very badly, so badly indeed that he made me come from behind the piano and thus abolished even the chance of future intimacies. Time and again I cursed organist and girl, but I was always on the alert for a similar experience. As dog fanciers say of hunting dogs, “I had tasted blood and could never afterwards forget the scent of it.”
Twenty-five years or more later, I dined with Frederic Chapman, the publisher of “The Fortnightly Review”, which I was then editing; he asked me some weeks afterwards had I noticed a lady and described her dress to me, adding, “She was very curious about you. As soon as you came into the room she recognized you and has asked me to tell her if you recognized her; did you?”
I shook my head: “I’m near-sighted, you know”,
I said, “and therefore to be forgiven, but when did she know me?”
He replied, “As a boy at school; she said you would remember her by her Christian name of E “.
“Of course I do”, I cried, “Oh! please tell me her name and where she lives. I’ll call on her, I want (and then reflection came to suggest prudence) to ask her some questions”, I added lamely.
“I can’t give you her name or address”, he replied, “I promised her not to, but she’s long been happily married I was to tell you”.
I pressed him but he remained obstinate, and on second thoughts I came to see that I had no right to push myself on a married woman who did not wish to renew acquaintance with me, but oh! I longed to see her and hear from her own lips the explanation of what to me at the time seemed her inexplicable, cruel change of attitude.
As a man, of course, I know she may have had a very good reason indeed, and her mere name still carries a glamour about it for me, an unforgettable fascination.
My father was always willing to encourage self reliance in me: indeed, he tried to make me act as a man while I was still a mere child. The Christmas holidays only lasted for four weeks; it was cheaper for me, therefore, to take lodgings in some neigh boring town rather than return to Ireland. Accordingly the Headmaster received the request to give me some seven pounds for my expenses and he did so, adding moreover much excellent advice.
My first holiday I spent in the watering-place of Rhyl in North Wales because a chum of mine, Evan Morgan, came from the place and told me he’d make it interesting for me. And in truth he did a good deal to make me like the people and love the place. He introduced me to three or four girls, among whom I took a great fancy to one Gertrude Hanniford. Gertie was over fifteen, tall and very pretty, I thought, with long plaits of chestnut hair; one of the best companions possible. She would kiss me willingly; but whenever I tried to touch her more intimately, she would wrinkle her little nose with “Don’t!” or “Don’t be dirty!”
One day I said to her reproachfully: “You’ll make me couple ‘dirty’ with ‘Gertie’ if you go on using it so often.” Bit by bit she grew tamer, though all too slowly for my desires; but luck was eager to help me.
One evening late we were together on some high ground behind the town when suddenly there came a great glare in the sky, which lasted two or three minutes: the next moment we were shaken by a sort of earthquake accompanied by a dull thud.
“An explosion!” I cried, “on the railway: let’s go and see!” And away we set off for the railway. For a hundred yards or so Gertie was as fast as I was; but after the first quarter of a mile I had to hold in so as not to leave her. Still for a girl she was very fast and strong. We took a footpath alongside the railway, for we found running over the wooden ties, very slow and dangerous. We had covered a little over a mile when we saw the blaze in front of us and a crowd of figures moving about before the glare.
In a few minutes we were opposite three or four blazing railway carriages and the wreck of an engine.
“How awful!” cried Gertie. “Let’s get over the fence”, I replied, “and go close!” The next moment I had thrown myself on the wooden paling and half vaulted, half clambered over it. But Gertie’s skirts prevented her from imitating me. As she stood in dismay, a great thought came to me: “Step on the iow rail, Gertie”, I cried, “and then on the upper one and I’ll lift you over. Quick!”
At once she did as she was told and while she stood with a foot on each rail hesitating and her hand on my head to steady herself, I put my right hand and arm between her legs and pulling her at the same moment towards me with my left hand, I lifted her over safely but my arm was in her crotch and when I withdrew it, my right hand stopped on her sex and began to touch it:
It was larger than E . . .‘s and had more hairs and was just as soft but she did not give me time to let it excite me so intensely.
“Don’t!” she exclaimed angrily: “take your hand away!” And slowly, reluctantly I obeyed, trying to excite her first; as she still scowled: “Come quick!” I cried and taking her hand drew her over to the blazing wreck.
In a little while we learned what had happened: a goods train loaded with barrels of oil had been at the top of the siding; it began to glide down of its own weight and ran into the Irish Express on its way from London to Holyhead. When the two met, the oil barrels were hurled over the engine of the express train, caught fire on the way and poured in flame over the first three carriages, reducing them and their unfortunate inmates to cinders in a very short time. There were a few persons burned and singed in the fourth and fifth carriages; but not many. Open-eyed we watched the gang of workmen lift out charred things like burnt logs rather than men and women, and lay them reverently in rows alongside the rails: about forty bodies, if I remember rightly, were taken out of that holocaust.
Suddenlv Gertie realised that it was late and quickly hand in hand we made our way home: “they’ll be angry with me”, said Gertie, “for being so late, it’s after midnight”. “When you tell them what you’ve seen!” I replied, “they won’t wonder that we waited”. As we parted I said, “Gertie dear, I want to thank you — “ “What for” she said shortly. “You know”, I said cunningly, “it was so kind of you” she made a face at me and ran up the steps into her house.
Slowly I returned to my lodgings, only to find myself the hero of the house when I told the story in the morning.
That experience in common made Gertie and myself great friends. She used to kiss me and say I was sweet: once even she let me see her breasts when I told her a girl (I didn’t say who it was) had shown hers to me once: her breasts were nearly as large as my sister’s and very pretty. Gertie even let me touch her legs right up to the knee; but as soon as I tried to go further, she would pull down her dress with a frown. Still I was always going higher, making progress; persistence brings one closer to any goal; but alas, it was near the end of the Christmas holidays and though I returned to Rhyl at Easter, I never saw Gertie again.
When I was just over thirteen I tried mainly out of pity to get up a revolt of the fags, and at first had a partial success, but some of the little fellows talked and as a ringleader I got a trouncing. The Monitors threw me down on my face on a long desk: one sixth form boy sat on my head and another on my feet, and a third, it was Jones, laid on with an ashplant. I bore it without a groan but I can never describe the storm of rage and hate that boiled in me. Do English fathers really believe that such work is a part of education? It made me murderous. When they let me up, I looked at Jones and if looks could kill, he’d have had short shrift. He tried to hit me but I dodged ilie blow and went out to plot revenge.
Jones was the head of the cricket First Eleven in which I too was given a place just for my bowling. Vernon of the Sixth was the chief bowler, but I was second, the only boy in the lower school who was in the Eleven at all. Soon afterwards a team from some other school came over to play us: the rival captains met before the tent, all on their best behaviour; for some reason, Vernon not being ready or something, I was given the new ball. A couple of the masters stood near. Jones lost the toss and said to the rival captain very politely, “If you’re ready. Sir! we’ll go out”. The other captain bowed smiling, my chance had come:
“I’m not going to play with you, you brute!” I cried and dashed the ball in Jones’s face.
He was very quick and throwing his head aside, escaped the full force of the blow; still the seam of the new ball grazed his cheek-bone and broke the skin: everyone stood amazed: only people who know the strength of English conventions can realise the sensation. Jones himself did not know what to do but took out his handkerchief to mop the blood, the skin being just broken. As for me, I walked away by myself. I had broken the supreme law of our school-boy honour: never to give away our dissensions to a master, still less to boys and masters from another school; I had sinned in public, too, and before everyone; I’d be universaly condemned.
The truth is, I was desperate, dreadfully unhappy, for since the breakdown of the fags’ revolt the lower boys had drawn away from me and the older boys never spoke to me if they could help it and then it was alwavs as “Pat”.
I felt myself an outcast and was utterly lonely and miserable as only despised outcasts can be. I was sure, too, I should be expelled and knew my father would judge me harshly; he was always on the side of the authorities and masters. However, the future was not to be as gloomy as my imagination pictured it.
The Mathematical Master was a young Cambridge man of perhaps six and twenty, Stackpole by name: I had asked him one day about a problem in algebra and he had been kind to me. On returning to the school this fatal afternoon about six, I happened to meet him on the edge of the playing field and by a little sympathy he soon drew out my whole story.
“I want to be expelled. I hate the beastly school”, was my cry. All the charm of the Irish schools was fermenting in me: I missed the kindliness of boy to boy and of the masters to the boys; above all the imaginative fancies of fairies and “the little people” which had been taught us by our nurses and though only half believed in; yet enriched and glorified life, — all this was lost to me. My head in especial, was full of stories of Banshees and fairy queens and heroes, half due to memory, half to my own shaping, which made me a desirable companion to Irish boys and only got me derision from the English.
“I wish I had known that you were being fagged”. Stackpole said when he had heard all, ‘I can easily remedy that”, and he went with me to the schoolroom and then and there erased my name from the fags’ list and wrote in my name in the First Mathematical Division.
“There”, he said with a smile, “you are now in the Upper School where you belong. I think”, he added, “I had better go and tell the Doctor wliat I’ve done. Don’t be down-hearted, Harris”, he added, “it’ll all come right.”
Next day the Sixth did nothing except cut out my name from the list of the First Eleven: I was told that Jones was going to thrash me but I startled my informant by saying: “I’ll put a knife into hira if he lays a hand on me: you can tell him so.”
In fact, however, I was half sent to Coventry and what hurt me most was that it was the boys of the Lower School who were coldest to me, the very boys for whom I had been righting. That gave me a bitter foretaste of what was to happen to me again and again all through my life.
The partial boycotting of me didn’t affect me much; I went for long walks in the beautiful park of Sir W. W near the school.
I have said many harsh things here of English school life; but for me it had two great redeeming features: the one was the library which was open to every boy, and the other the physical training of the playing fields, the various athletic exercises and the gymnasium. The library to me for some months meant Walter Scott. How right George Eliot was to speak of him as “making the joy of many a young life”. Certain scenes of his made ineffaceable impressions on me though unfortunately not always his best work. The wrestling match between the Puritan, Balfour of Burleigh and the soldier was one of my beloved passages. Another favorite page was approved, too, by my maturer judgment, the brave suicide of the little atheist apothecary in the “Fair Maid of Perth”. But Scott’s finest work, such as the character painting of old Scotch servants, left me cold. Dickens I never could stomach, either as a boy or in later life. His “Tale of Two Cities” and “Nicholas Nickleby” seemed to me then about the best and I’ve never had any desire since to revise my judgment after reading “David Copperfield” in my student days and finding men painted by a name or phrase or gesture, women by their modesty and souls by some silly catchword; “the mere talent of the caricaturist”, I said to myself, “at his best another Hogarth”.
Naturally the romances and tales of adventure were all swallowed whole; but few affected me vitally: “The Chase of the White Horse” by Mayne Reid, lives with me still because of the love-scenes with the Spanish heroine, and Marryat’s “Peter Simple” which I read a hundred times and could read again tomorrow; for there is better character painting in Chucks, the boatswain, than in all Dickens, in my poor opinion. I remember being astounded ten years later when Carlyle spoke of Marryat with contempt. I knew he was unfair, just as I am probably unfair to Dickens: after all, even Hogarth has one or two good pictures to his credit, and no one survives even three generations without some merit.
In my two years I read every book in the library, and half a dozen are still beloved by me.
I profited, too, from all games and exercises. I was no good at cricket; I was shortsighted and caught some nasty knocks through an unsuspected astigmatism; but I had an extraordinary knack of bowling which, as I have stated, put me in the First Eleven. I liked football and was good at it. I took t he keenest delight in every form of exercise: I could jump and run better than almost any boy of my age and in wrestling and a little later in boxing, was among the best in the school. In the gymnasium, too. I practiced assiduously; I was so eager to excel that the teacher was continually advising me to go slow. At fourteen I could pull myself up with my right hand till mv chin was above the bar.
In all games the English have a high ideal of fairness and courtesy. No one ever took an unfair advantage of another and courtesy was a law. If another school sent a team to play us at cricket or football, the victors aways cheered the vanquished when the game was over, and it was a rule for the Captain to thank the Captain of the visitors for his kindness in coming and for the good game he had given us. This custom obtained too in the Royal Schools in Ireland that were founded for the English garrison, but I couldn’t help noting that these courtesies were not practiced in ordinary Irish schools. It was for years the only tiling in which I had to admit the superiority of John Bull.
The ideal of a gentleman is not a very high one. Kimerson says somewhere that the evolution of the gentleman is the chief spiritual product of the last two or three centuries; but the concept, it seems to me, dwarfs the ideal. A “gentleman” to me is a thing of some parts but no magnitude: one should be a gentleman and much more: a thinker, guide or artist.
English custom in the games taught me the value and need of courtesy, and athletics practiced assiduously did much to steel and strengthen my control of all my bodily desires: they gave my mind and reason the mastery of me. At the same time they taught me the laws of health and the necessity of obeying them.
I found out that by drinking little at meals I could reduce my weight very quickly and was thereby enabled to jump higher than ever; but when I went on reducing I learned that there was a limit beyond which, if I persisted, I began to lose strength: athletics taught me what the French call the juste milieu, the middle path of moderation.
When I was about fourteen I discovered that to think of love before going to sleep was to dream of it during the night. And this experience taught me something else; if I repeated any lesson just before going to sleep, I knew it perfectly next morning; the mind, it seems, works even during unconsciousness. Often since, I have solved problems during sleep in mathematics and in chess that have puzzled me during the day.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51