Public School Magazine, January 1902
A CORRESPONDENT at one of the schools writes to tell me of an episode in the career of an Old Boy of the foundation to which he belongs. It appears that this gentleman, having occasion to consult his solicitor on some subject, paid him a visit at his office. The solicitor was out, and he had to wait. While he was waiting, a policeman, who had seen him enter and who mistook what my correspondent calls his negligé costume for the more Bohemian but less artistic dress of the professional house-breaker, promptly appeared on the scene, and ran him in.
The moral, of course, is that it is better to hide a bad heart beneath a good coat than a good heart beneath a bad coat. But to one who can read between the lines there is more than this in the story. I can state with absolute certainty, though I do not know the gentleman in question, that when at school he was obliged to wear the regulation “coat of either black or dark blue.” His negligé costume was the reaction from this. It is time that the authorities were warned in this matter. Enforced wearing of black or dark blue is bound to bring about a reaction. In some cases, as in that of the hero of the above anecdote, the reaction is comparatively harmless, at any rate to the community. But in many cases it takes another and a deadlier shape. “Why is it,” asks Professor Jebb in his “Evidences of Human Instability,” “that what are commonly termed ‘blood’ waistcoats flourish most rankly at the Universities?” Now the Professor proceeds to answer his own question. He says that it is merely another instance of the marvellous workings of Nature. “It is a significant fact,” says he, “that the brighter the waistcoat, the less bright the intellect: the louder the tie, the quieter the voice of conscience.” But this, in my opinion, is incorrect. Statistics show that many undergraduates who get first in Mods. wear striking costumes, while no less than sixty-one per cent. of the successful candidates for the Indian Civil Service during the last five years appeared at the examination in check suits and club ties. No, it is surely obvious that the theory of reaction is the correct one. Many people are born with the love of sweet things. Push the matter to its logical conclusion, and you will find that those who take sweet things also like sweet things in clothes. From the day of their birth to the time they leave school they are not consulted in the matter. In babyhood they are wrapped in garments of a shocking cut. Later they are hustled into sailor-suits, and later still their young ambitions are pent up in suits of black or dark blue. What is the result? They accumulate force. By the time they go up to the University there is no stopping them. They run amok. The first suit ordered by a freshman is often a positive danger to the public. I still possess the waistcoat which I bought on the day I left school. The tailor informed me that it was “the extreme west-end style.” I take it out and look at it sometimes when I feel a little dull. But this evil should be stopped, and that with speed, or many more Old Boys will be arrested on suspicion as burglars, and the case of the poor old gentleman who caught a glimpse of a perambulating freshman in the High and, being inclined to be superstitious, thought it was a solemn warning and expired instantly, may be repeated. Let the authorities revoke the “black or dark blue” edict. The cure is as simple as the evil is gigantic. No one ever wants to do anything he is allowed to do. If the schools are given a free hand in the matter of colour, the results cannot fail to be beneficial. Those to whom conscience is something more than a mere name and morality a living force will adopt desirable costumes of themselves. The rest—there will not be many—the authorities can shoot, and the remainder will be The Perfect School. Try it.