MEMORIES OF BYGONE ETON. By H. S. Salt. London: Hutchinson and Co. Pp. 263. 10s. 6d. net.
Mr. Salt was at Eton, as a boy and as master; he is also a vegetarian and a Socialist. From which we may be prepared to discover that, in spite of an attachment to his Alma Mater, from which no Etonian wholly escapes, he did not always find her ways to be ways of pleasantness nor her paths to be paths of peace. A personal friend of Mr. Bernard Shaw, he has the same propensity for being “agin the Government.” It comes out amusingly in the account of his tutorship in the palace of the late Bishop Selwyn at Lichfield, where he was oppressed by the atmosphere of austere piety, and fain to address another youthful visitor, who relieved the gloom, in the words once used by Jessica:
Our house is hell, and thou a merry devil
Didst rob it of some taste of tediousness.
Whether this other visitor was the curate called “Sweet” does not appear. But the Bishop, it seems, could never remember which of his guests was “Salt” and which was “Sweet,” and Mr. Salt sets down to his credit the twinkle that lightened the episcopal eye each time that he became conscious he had made a confusion. At Eton Mr. Salt, though a classical master was a true lover of Virgil, distrusted the educational value of Latin verse exercises, and his revelation of a system under which tutors with a facility for such composition sometimes bargained to do their colleagues’ corrections in exchange for attendance at chapel would hardly assist the maintenance of the “grand old fortifying classical curriculum” if that were still in being. But even at Eton conventions change, and it is a far cry from the Dr. Balston of the sixties, who was never seen without cap and gown and was popularly supposed to sleep in them, to the present head master, whom Mr. Salt credits with an ambition to eclipse W. S. Gilbert in the writing of comic opera. There was Mrs. Hornby, too, the head master’s wife, who told Mrs. Salt that it was “not quite nice” for her to accompany Mr. Salt on a sociable tricycle. That also seems very remote and Victorian. Yes, even at Eton the conventions change. But what of that? There are always conventions nevertheless. Perhaps for an impartial study of Eton the best plan would be to sandwich chapters of Mr. Salt between chapters of Mr. Fletcher’s admiring life of Dr. Warre or Mr. Macnaghten’s benignant reminiscences of the best school of all in the best of possible worlds. After all, this is only to say that unqualified eulogy should be taken cum grano salis.
J. H. F.
The Guardian, September 25, 1928, p. 7