Public School Magazine, July 1901
A FRIEND of mine suggests that “The limitations of the parental mind,” or “Parents: their limitations and insular prejudices,” would form an admirable subject for a thoughtful thesis. He is very right. There are few things more painful than the delusions to which the best of parents are subject. A father, for instance, a perfectly sane, conscientious business-man in other respects, will insist, in the face of all arguments, that sixpence a week is sufficient to keep a growing lad properly equipped with those luxuries, which, it has been well said, are so much more necessary than necessities. Out of this sixpence must be provided (1) a bun and a glass of ginger-beer at eleven o’clock, (2) enough light refreshment to last through the weary hours of afternoon school, (3) a little something at four o’clock, and (4) something really substantial to consume in prep. Multiply this by six and add the amount necessary for Sunday, and then compare it with your income. It would be ludicrous, if it were not so pathetic.
Take another case, the matter of school reports. Every schoolboy, even Macaulay’s schoolboy, knows that a report is not worth the paper it is written upon. The average report, if it were not beneath notice, would involve its author in a suit for libel. One knows the sort of thing. “He has distinct abilities, which he neutralizes by a persistent laziness. His behaviour leaves much to be desired, and his manner is impertinent,” signed, the form-master (his mark X). Then on the last line a perfectly irrelevant remark from the Head, “I am sorry to see this report.” Now, as I said before, the intelligent schoolboy thinks nothing of this American-journal type of literature. But to the parent every word is convincing, and friction is bound to ensue. The best plan is to do as an acquaintance of mine did, and give a false address. He wrote on his envelope “G.—— Strathpeffer Castle, Lanarkshire.” The castle in question happened to belong to a lord sufficiently blue-blooded to employ a secretary. The secretary opened the report, glanced at its contents, and hove it forthwith into the ducal waste-paper emporium. And there was an end of it, and they all lived happily ever afterwards.
It is a mistake, if I may presume to say so, to allow your father to accept a mastership at your own school. Did I ever tell you that story about the fellow who—? No! Very well, then. He was promoted one term to the form over which his parent presided, and, being unable to see his way to doing the work set on the first evening, he came to school next day without having much idea about it. “Why is this?” asked his father, the master. Then the youth made an unfortunate slip. He said, through sheer force of habit, that on the previous evening his father had thought he looked pale, and had sent him to bed early with instructions to do no work of any sort. “Oh!” said his father, nastily, and the youth saw his mistake. It was too late to plead an error of memory and change the paleness to a sprained wrist, so he did what he thought was the most judicious thing, and fell on the floor in a state as near to convulsions as he could command at a moment’s notice. His father waited till he had quite finished—ten minutes by the clock—and then, in the most indifferent taste, sent him to the Head with the customary note, please pay bearer so many strokes of the flagellum. To this outrageous proposal the Head actually consented, and the episode ended. But it upset my friend altogether. He worked so hard to get out of his father’s form that he contracted the habit and has never since been able to rid himself of it. He is a Master himself now, poor fellow.
I see Sherborne is having trouble with its library. A school library always is in a state of primaeval chaos. This is the sort of thing that happens.
Scene: library. Prefect in charge doing his best to sit on four chairs at once. Enter, mere lad.
Mere lad (briskly): “ ‘Sorrows of Barrabbas,’ please.”
Prefect (drowsily): “Eh?”
Mere lad repeats request.
Prefect (after a prolonged search, which was obviously hopeless from the start): “It’s out, I’m afraid.”
Mere lad (with a slight degree of confidence): “Then can I have ‘For Philip and Fatherland.’ ”
Prefect (in a tone of incredulous horror): “Henty?”
(Note:—When one has cast off childish things and begins to grow a moustache, Henty is Anathema).
Mere lad cannot deny the accusation. Prefect pulls himself together and dives into the shelf of horror where the many works of this deservedly popular and justly widely-read novelist may be found. Time speeds on.
Prefect (at last): “ ’Fraid it’s not in. But here’s ‘How I shed my blood in Barataria,’ one of Henty’s best I believe.”
Mere lad (in the pained voice of one who asks for bread and is offered a stone): “Read it years ago.”
Prefect: “Well, have you read ‘The Lion of Lapland,’ or ‘The Tiger of Trent Bridge’?”
Mere lad (with a superior sniff): “I’ve read all Henty except ‘For Philip and Fatherland.’ ”
Prefect: “Oh!” (brightening up): “Here’s rather a good book by Jules Verne, ‘The Unterrestrial Twopenny Tube.’ ’Bout a man who got to Saturn or somewhere in a cannon-ball. Try that.”
Mere lad (with an Apage retro Satanas air): “No thanks, it doesn’t matter. I’ll wait till the Henty comes back.”
(Makes for door.)
Prefect (suddenly): “Half a second. Was it ‘For Philip and Fatherland’ you wanted?”
Mere lad: “Yes.”
Prefect: “Here it is. I found it under the table. I’m afraid some of the pages are missing. Starts at page 36 and ends in the middle of a word, and I’m not sure there aren’t a few leaves out in between, but here it is. You’ll be able to get a good general idea of what it’s about.”
Exit mere lad dubiously, but on the whole triumphant. Prefect draws up a fifth chair and settles down again. Slow curtain.
P.G. is making fun of three authors here. The boys’ adventure writer G. A. Henty, whom he admired (Philip in the Fatherland or The Lion in Lapland would be an apt title for any two of his books); Jules Verne and his fantastic adventures, and lastly, Marie Corelli, who was the author of a religious trilogy consisting of Barabbas, a Dream of the World’s Tragedy (1893), The Sorrows of Satan (1895) and her most famous, The Master Christian. She was born Mary Mackay in 1855 and adopted the name Marie Corelli in her career as a musician; she began writing in 1886. She was widely read (The Sorrows of Satan sold 50,000 copies in seven weeks) but came under harsh criticism for her over-the-top melodramatic writing. A critic at The Spectator wrote that she was “. . . a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and she was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamorous setting.” P.G.’s joke is that no British schoolboy on earth would have been caught dead with any of her books. Marie Corelli was a real-life spectre of Wodehouse’s female novelists. According to Murphy, Wodehouse quotes her phrase “It became him (or her) well” in several books, and when one of his later female authoresses puts on the dog a little, it’s likely recalls Corelli. During his years at the Globe Wodehouse savaged her repeatedly, mocking her self-important, publicity-seeking airs. This little playlet shows she was in his sights even then, as the article “School Stories” in the next month’s issue shows.