Sir,—J. D. Bourchier's career, as outlined in your notice of his biography,, was so remarkable an instance of how, in an ill-chosen profession, a man of
great ability may be looked upon as incompetent that some further recollections of his experiences at Eton may perhaps be of interest to your readers. He and I were assistant masters there at the same time, and as we were both rather out of sympathy with the orthodoxies of the place, I saw a good deal of him for several years.
It must be admitted that he was not successful as a teacher, even less so than the majority of us. Everybody liked him; and some of the senior masters, especially E. C. Austen Leigh, tried to acclimatize him, so to speak, and to induct him, alien and neophyte that he was, into the Eton ritual. But he was constitutionally incapable of being so guided. In the first place, he was extremely unpunctual, and was often so late in his rush to "early school" that by the time he arrived at his class-room the boys had taken what was called "a run," the tradition being that after fifteen minutes' waiting they were entitled to decamp. It might have gone hard with him but for the fact that the Headmaster, Dr. Hornby, was not so punctual himself as to be likely to find fault, on that score, with an erring assistant. Nor was this failing on Bourchier's part confined to his school duties. Once, having arrived very late at a dinner partly he gave, to the amusement of the other guests, the rather strange excuse that he 'had fallen over a sheep"—how or where was not stated.
With the boys Bourchier was on pleasant and genial terms, if not exactly a disciplinarian. He once told me that in the course of a history lesson he had purposely amused them by addressing to Mr. Arthur Bourchier, then an Eton boy in his Division, a leading question to which the answer (correctly. given) was "Cardinal Bourchier." Thus was exhibited a trio of Bourchiers which gave general satisfaction. But, pleasant and talented as Bourchier was, a good scholar and a fine musician, he was regarded, not without reason, as by no means fitted for his post, and his increasing deafness even at that date was adding to his difficulties. It was said, indeed, that, with his liking for outdoor life, he was a little ashamed of his pedagogic profession, and that when he returned to Ireland in the holidays, and was asked what had been the cause of his absence he would say that he "had been spending a few weeks in the neighbourhood of Windsor."
I saw Bourchier now and then in later years, during his visits to London from the East, and he told me, with amusement, that from an Eton master he had become the friend and associate of kings, with one of whom he had become quite "chummy" in private, though he had to conform to the usual ceremonies before the eyes of the Court. To a friend who asked him how he was able in spite of his deafness, to act as The Times correspondent, he replied that, as everything you hear in the Balkan countries is a lie, his infirmity had been a help rather than a hindrance to his work, and had saved him from transmitting false reports to Printing House-square. Here is a principle which might be worth the consideration of Governments as well as of editors. Diplomacy may yet be found to be peculiarly the function of the deaf.
Bourchier at Eton was "a fish out of water"; but it was a defect less of character than of environment, and so, with a prosperous change of scene, the wrong man in the wrong place emerged as the right man in the right one.
Henry S. Salt
19, Highdown Place, Brighton
The Times, April 16, 1926, p. 10