steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 17: Mr White the Latin Master

... When Dr Jacobs, who, I believe, was not an Old Blue, became Head Master of the Grammar School, a new School, the Latin School, was formed for Mr White in Christ's Hospital, for it was felt that Mr White ought not to be under Dr Jacobs. Some of the Masters of the various Schools were Ward-visiting Managers. Mr White made it a crime to play at chess (why, I do not know) and threatened the birch for disobedience. Mr Bowker, his successor as Manager of Ward XV, turned the crime into a virtue, and gave the Ward several chess-boards.

After a time there was a general pigging, that is, removal from one Ward to another. Big lads were placed in separate Wards by themselves. The result of this pigging was that the bullying of little boys by big ceased. "Isn't it like heaven now?" said a little lad to me. "... Another good thing in the pigging was the appointment of Latin School monitors for the Latin School wards. The monitors of the Latin School wards were not so stuck-up as the Deputy Grecians, and did not consider it infra dig to speak in a friendly way to the lads they governed.

On entering the Latin School I was taught by Mr Wingfield. I remember nothing about him excepting that he used the cane a good deal. Then Mr White became my master, a venerable-looking old man with a strong likeness to Alexander Cruden, the author of a concordance to the Bible and Apocrypha. Mr White wore spectacles, and had long white hair waving over his shoulders. When he called us into his study, he was supposed to be hearing our lessons, but we were usually doing nothing for most or all of the time, sometimes a whole hour. A lad was placed in front of use with a slate to take down the names of any who made the slightest sound, while Mr White was composing a Dictionary or some other book for the study of Latin. If a boy through nervousness twitched his face or moved his tongue into his cheek, and was caught by the master's eye, Mr White roared at him, accused him of making grimaces at his master, and ordered him to keep on doing the same nervous action for half an hour. On one occasion I was roared at. After the dismissal of the class I returned to the study and said, "I did not mean to offend you." He said "All right," continued his notes, and I retired. Not long afterwards he roared again, and I mentioned the affair to my parents, and it got, through a friend, to the ears of Mr Whitbread, a Governor of Christ's Hospital. This was not what I had intended, but I was not sorry. The reason that schoolboys do not make complaints of ill treatment is not, as is sometimes supposed, a noble hatred of talebearing superior to that which is found in grown-up persons, but it is that they know that complaints will probably do them more harm than good, for it is impossible for boys to obtain a fair hearing. Mr Whitbread called for me on Speech Day, and said, "You are a little donkey." I replied, in my thoughts but not aloud, "And you are a big one, probably not trained to be civil as I have been, so I make allowance for you." I thought again that notwithstanding this rudeness, he might have done me a good turn, and, in that case, I would feel grateful to him. Well, so it turned out, for the next time I went to the Latin School, Mr White said before the class the henceforth he and I were going to be friends; and with a seeming contradiction, that he should not speak to me again. In future, when he heard the class, he should pass me over. He said this with a smiling face, and added that he supposed there was fraternity between the brewer, Mr Whitbread, and me, because my name, Butler, is associated with wine.

Occasionally Mr White was most affable to the boys. Once full of apparent friendliness, he asked a multitude of questions about the things in Mr Fletcher's Tuck-shop, which was in the "Garden". Unlike St Paul, who when he became a man "put away childish things", Mr White became more childish than the boys before him. He expressed a desire to learn from them the exact shape of the cornered tarts, the size and flavour of the High pies, the Low pies, the jumbles, packets of cocoa, sherbet and the rest. When all his questions were fully satisfied, he exclaimed to the class, who were half ashamed and half amused, but obliged to answer, "Well, boys, you certainly show great knowledge of these things. I am surprised at your information; if you took the same interest in your Latin, we should do well!" Sometime he broke the silence of the study by exclaiming over this composition, "There dear little notes! If a boy does not learn from them he ought to be flogged."

Once, when nearing the end of the afternoon school hours, he put down his pen, rubbed his hands together, and fell back in the chair laughing. With a face beaming with smiles he told us that he had finished his day's work, and now was going home to his dinner. And, as if to make all lash, that is, long for what we could not have, he described to us what the items of the dinner would be. "Roast beef and rich gravy. Delicious! Potatoes, either roasted crisp under the meat or if boiled, well done and floury. Very nice! Yorkshire pudding rich and brown. Ah! After that, fruit-pie with light flaky crust and plenty of delightful juice! custard and a glass of wine!" Here he gave us a merry roguish look, which seemed to say, What do you think of that, boys? Wouldn't you like the tuck-in that I'm going to have? When you are at your miserable housy meal, I shall be enjoying myself.
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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