Dr. Wortle's school, by Anthony Trollope

Dr Wortle

The Rev. Jeffrey Wortle, D.D., was a man much esteemed by others — and by himself. He combined two professions, in both of which he had been successful — had been, and continued to be, at the time in which we speak of him. I will introduce him to the reader in the present tense as Rector of Bowick, and proprietor and headmaster of the school established in the village of that name. The seminary at Bowick had for some time enjoyed a reputation under him — not that he had ever himself used so newfangled and unpalatable a word in speaking of his school. Bowick School had been established by himself as preparatory to Eton. Dr Wortle had been elected to an assistant-mastership at Eton early in life soon after he had become a Fellow of Exeter. There he had worked successfully for ten years, and had then retired to the living of Bowick. On going there he had determined to occupy his leisure, and if possible to make his fortune, by taking a few boys into his house. By dint of charging high prices and giving good food — perhaps in part, also, by the quality of the education which he imparted — his establishment had become popular and had outgrown the capacity of the parsonage. He had been enabled to purchase a field or two close abutting on the glebe-gardens, and had there built convenient premises. He now limited his number to thirty boys, for each of which he charged 200 a year. It was said of him by his friends that if he would only raise his price to 250, he might double the number, and really make a fortune. In answer to this, he told his friends that he knew his own business best — he declared that his charge was the only sum that was compatible both with regard to himself and honesty to his customers, and asserted that the labours he endured were already quite heavy enough. In fact, he recommended all those who gave him advice to mind their own business.

It may be said of him that he knew his own so well as to justify him in repudiating counsel from others. There are very different ideas of what “a fortune” may be supposed to consist. It will not be necessary to give Dr Wortle’s exact idea. No doubt it changed with him, increasing as his money increased. But he was supposed to be a comfortable man. He paid ready money and high prices. He liked that people under him should thrive — and he liked them to know that they throve by his means. He liked to be master, and always was. He was just, and liked his justice to be recognised. He was generous also, and liked that, too, to be known. He kept a carriage for his wife, who had been the daughter of a poor clergyman at Windsor, and was proud to see her as well dressed as the wife of any county squire. But he was a domineering husband. As his wife worshipped him, and regarded him as a Jupiter on earth from whose nod there could be and should be no appeal, but little harm came from this. If a tyrant, he was an affectionate tyrant. His wife felt him to be so. His servants, his parish, and his school all felt him to be so. They obeyed him, loved him, and believed in him.

So upon the whole, at the time with which we are dealing, did the diocese, the county, and that world of parents by whom the boys were sent to his school. But this had not come about without some hard fighting. He was over fifty years of age, and had been Rector of Bowick for nearly twenty. During that time there had been a succession of three bishops, and he had quarrelled more or less with all of them. It might be juster to say that they had all of them had more or less of occasion to find fault with him. Now Dr Wortle — or Mr Wortle, as he should be called in reference to that period — was a man who would bear censure from no human being. He had left his position at Eton because the headmaster had required from him some slight change of practice. There had been no quarrel on that occasion, but Mr Wortle had gone. He at once commenced his school at Bowick, taking half a dozen pupils into his own house. The bishop of that day suggested that the cure of the souls of the parishioners of Bowick was being subordinated to the Latin and Greek of the sons of the nobility. The bishop got a response which gave an additional satisfaction to his speedy translation to a more comfortable diocese. Between the next bishop and Mr Wortle there was, unfortunately, misunderstanding, and almost feud for the entire ten years during which his lordship reigned in the Palace of Broughton. This Bishop of Broughton had been one of that large batch of Low Church prelates who were brought forward under Lord Palmerston. Among them there was none more low, more pious, more sincere, or more given to interference. To teach Mr Wortle his duty as a parish clergyman was evidently a necessity to such a bishop. To repudiate any such teaching was evidently a necessity to Mr Wortle. Consequently there were differences, in all of which Mr Wortle carried his own. What the good bishop suffered no one probably knew except his wife and his domestic chaplain. What Mr Wortle enjoyed — or Dr Wortle, as he came to be called about this time — was patent to all the county and all the diocese. The sufferer died, not, let us hope, by means of the Doctor; and then came the third bishop. He, too, had found himself obliged to say a word. He was a man of the world — wise, prudent, not given to interference or fault-finding, friendly by nature, one who altogether hated a quarrel, a bishop beyond all things determined to be the friend of his clergymen — and yet he thought himself obliged to say a word. There were matters in which Dr Wortle affected a peculiarly anti-clerical mode of expression, if not of feeling. He had been foolish enough to declare openly that he was in search of a curate who should have none of the “grace of godliness” about him. He was wont to ridicule the piety of young men who devoted themselves entirely to their religious offices. In a letter which he wrote he spoke of one youthful divine as “a conceited ass who had preached for forty minutes”. He not only disliked, but openly ridiculed all signs of a special pietistic bearing. It was said of him that he had been heard to swear. There can be no doubt that he made himself wilfully distasteful to many of his stricter brethren. Then it came to pass that there was a correspondence between him and the bishop as to that outspoken desire of his for a curate without the grace of godliness. But even here Dr Wortle was successful. The management of his parish was pre-eminently good. The parish school was a model. The farmers went to church. Dissenters there were none. The people of Bowick believed thoroughly in their parson, and knew the comfort of having an open-handed, well-to-do gentleman in the village. This third episcopal difficulty did not endure long. Dr Wortle knew his man, and was willing enough to be on good terms with his bishop so long as he was allowed to be in all things his own master.

There had, too, been some fighting between Dr Wortle and the world about his school. He was, as I have said, a thoroughly generous man, but he required, himself, to be treated with generosity. Any question as to the charges made by him as schoolmaster was unendurable. He explained to all parents that he charged for each boy at the rate of two hundred a year for board, lodging, and tuition, and that anything required for a boy’s benefit or comfort beyond that ordinarily supplied would be charged for as an extra at such price as Dr Wortle himself thought to be an equivalent. Now the popularity of his establishment no doubt depended in a great degree on the sufficiency and comfort of the good things of the world which he provided. The beer was of the best, the boys were not made to eat fat, their taste in the selection of joints was consulted. The morning coffee was excellent. The cook was a great adept at cakes and puddings. The Doctor would not himself have been satisfied unless everything had been plentiful, and everything of the best. He would have hated a butcher who had attempted to seduce him with meat beneath the usual price. But when he had supplied that which was sufficient according to his own liberal ideas, he did not give more without charging for it. Among his customers there had been a certain Honourable Mr Stantiloup, and — which had been more important — an Honourable Mrs Stantiloup. Mrs Stantiloup was a lady who liked all the best things which the world could supply, but hardly liked paying the best price. Dr Wortle’s school was the best thing the world could supply of that kind, but then the price was certainly the very best. Young Stantiloup was only eleven, and as there were boys at Bowick as old as seventeen — for the school had not altogether maintained its old character as being merely preparatory — Mrs Stantiloup had thought that her boy should be admitted at a lower fee. The correspondence which had ensued had been unpleasant. Then young Stantiloup had had the influenza, and Mrs Stantiloup had sent her own doctor. Champagne had been ordered, and carriage exercise. Mr Stantiloup had been forced by his wife to refuse to pay sums demanded for these undoubted extras. Ten shillings a day for a drive for a little boy seemed to her a great deal — seemed so to Mrs Stantiloup. Ought not the Doctor’s wife to have been proud to take out her little boy in her own carriage? And then 2 10 s . for champagne for the little boy! It was monstrous. Mr Stantiloup remonstrated. Dr Wortle said that the little boy had better be taken away and the bill paid at once. The little boy was taken away and the money was offered, short of 5. The matter was instantly put into the hands of the Doctor’s lawyer, and a suit commenced. The Doctor, of course, got his money, and then there followed an acrimonious correspondence in the “Times” and other newspapers. Mrs Stantiloup did her best to ruin the school, and many very eloquent passages were written not only by her or by her own special scribe, but by others who took the matter up, to prove that two hundred a year was a great deal more than ought to be paid for the charge of a little boy during three quarters of the year. But in the course of the next twelve months Dr Wortle was obliged to refuse admittance to a dozen eligible pupils because he had not room for them.

No doubt he had suffered during these contests — suffered, that is, in mind. There had been moments in which it seemed that the victory would be on the other side, that the forces congregated against him were too many for him, and that not being able to bend he would have to be broken; but in every case he had fought it out, and in every case he had conquered. He was now a prosperous man, who had achieved his own way, and had made all those connected with him feel that it was better to like him and obey him, than to dislike him and fight with him. His curates troubled him as little as possible with the grace of godliness, and threw off as far as they could that zeal which is so dear to the youthful mind but which so often seems to be weak and flabby to their elders. His ushers or assistants in the school fell in with his views implicitly, and were content to accept compensation in the shape of personal civilities. It was much better to go shares with the Doctor in a joke than to have to bear his hard words.

It is chiefly in reference to one of these ushers that our story has to be told. But before we commence it, we must say a few more words as to the Doctor and his family. Of his wife I have already spoken. She was probably as happy a woman as you shall be likely to meet on a summer’s day. She had good health, easy temper, pleasant friends, abundant means, and no ambition. She went nowhere without the Doctor, and wherever he went she enjoyed her share of the respect which was always shown to him. She had little or nothing to do with the school, the Doctor having many years ago resolved that though it became him as a man to work for his bread, his wife should not be a slave. When the battles had been going on — those between the Doctor and the bishops, and the Doctor and Mrs Stantiloup, and the Doctor and the newspapers — she had for a while been unhappy. It had grieved her to have it insinuated that her husband was an atheist, and asserted that her husband was a cormorant; but his courage had sustained her, and his continual victories had taught her to believe at last that he was indomitable.

They had one child, a daughter, Mary, of whom it was said in Bowick that she alone knew the length of the Doctor’s foot. “It certainly was so that, if Mrs Wortle wished to have anything done which was a trifle beyond her own influence, she employed Mary. And if the boys collectively wanted to carry a point, they would “collectively” obtain Miss Wortle’s aid. But all this the Doctor probably knew very well; and though he was often pleased to grant favours thus asked, he did so because he liked the granting of favours when they had been asked with a proper degree of care and attention. She was at the present time of the age in which fathers are apt to look upon their children as still children, while other men regard them as being grown-up young ladies. It was now June, and in the approaching August she would be eighteen. It was said of her that of the girls all round she was the prettiest; and indeed it would be hard to find a sweeter-favoured girl than Mary Wortle. Her father had been all his life a man noted for the manhood of his face. He had a broad forehead, with bright grey eyes — eyes that had always a smile passing round them, though the smile would sometimes show that touch of irony which a smile may contain rather than the good humour which it is ordinarily supposed to indicate. His nose was aquiline, not hooky like a true bird’s beak, but with that bend which seems to give to the human face the clearest indication of individual will. His mouth, for a man, was perhaps a little too small, but was admirably formed, as had been the chin with a deep dimple on it, which had now by the slow progress of many dinners become doubled in its folds. His hair had been chestnut, but dark in its hue. It had now become grey, but still with the shade of the chestnut through it here and there. He stood five feet ten in height, with small hands and feet. He was now perhaps somewhat stout, but was still as upright on his horse as ever, and as well able to ride to hounds for a few fields when by chance the hunt came in the way of Bowick. Such was the Doctor. Mrs Wortle was a pretty little woman, now over forty years of age, of whom it was said that in her day she had been the beauty of Windsor and those parts. Mary Wortle took mostly after her father, being tall and comely, having especially her father’s eyes; but still they who had known Mrs Wortle as a girl declared that Mary had inherited also her mother’s peculiar softness and complexion.

For many years past none of the pupils had been received within the parsonage — unless when received there as guests, which was of frequent occurrence. All belonging to the school was built outside the glebe land, as a quite separate establishment, with a door opening from the parsonage garden to the school-yard. Of this door the rule was that the Doctor and the gardener should have the only two keys; but the rule may be said to have become quite obsolete, as the door was never locked. Sometimes the bigger boys would come through unasked — perhaps in search of a game of lawn-tennis with Miss Wortle, perhaps to ask some favour of Mrs Wortle, who always was delighted to welcome them, perhaps even to seek the Doctor himself, who never on such occasions would ask how it came to pass that they were on that side of the wall. Sometimes Mrs Wortle would send her housekeeper through for some of the little boys. It would then be a good time for the little boys. But this would generally be during the Doctor’s absence.

Here, on the school side of the wall, there was a separate establishment of servants, and a separate kitchen. There was no sending backwards or forwards of food or of clothes — unless it might be when some special delicacy was sent in if a boy were unwell. For these no extra charge was ever made, as had been done in the case of young Stantiloup. Then a strange doctor had come, and had ordered the wine and the carriage. There was no extra charge for the kindly glasses of wine which used to be administered in quite sufficient plenty.

Behind the school, and running down to the little river Pin, there is a spacious cricket-ground, and a court marked out for lawn-tennis. Up close to the school is a racket-court. No doubt a good deal was done to make the externals of the place alluring to those parents who love to think that their boys shall be made happy at school. Attached to the school, forming part of the building, is a pleasant, well-built residence, with six or eight rooms, intended for the senior or classical assistant-master. It had been the Doctor’s scheme to find a married gentleman to occupy this house, whose wife should receive a separate salary for looking after the linen and acting as matron to the school — doing what his wife did till he became successful — while the husband should be in orders and take part of the church duties as a second curate. But there had been a difficulty in this.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01