A relic of the talented Messel Family

Messel Medea cover 001Found in a box of old text books (Zinn collection)  is this copy of part two of C. B. Heberden’s edition of Euripedes’ Medea ( notes and appendices) published by the Clarendon Press in 1886.Stamped in gold lettering on the light brown cover of this distinctly dull-looking school text book are the words MESSEL/TARVERS. Inscribed in pencil on the fly-leaf we find ‘ L.Messel/Tarvers ‘, which suggests that it belonged at one time to Leonard Charles Rudolph Messel ( 1872 – 1953), father of the famous stage designer Oliver Messel. Beneath the inscription are two pencil and ink drawings—one of a veiled lady in Victorian dress, the other a small profile of a man’s head.

Leonard was the eldest son of Ludwig Messel, a German stockbroker who had emigrated to Britain, possibly in the late 1860s.He married and in 1890 bought Nymans, a 600 acre estate near Hayward’s Heath in West Sussex. His son Leonard was sent to Eton, where he joined Tarver’s house, and that is all we really know about his life as a schoolboy. However, if he did execute the two drawings, then he obviously passed on his artistic skills to his son Oliver, who may also have inherited skills from his mother, who was the daughter of Edward Linley Sambourne, the eminent Punch cartoonist. This being so, it is equally likely that Oliver, who also attended Eton, inherited his father’s copy of Heberden’s Euripides, and it was he who drew the veiled woman and male profile. Continue reading

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Edward Balston—the man in love with Eton College

It’s bad enough to learn that nineteen British prime Ministers attended Eton College without learning recently, as I did, that one Eton man was so enamoured of the benefits of a classical education that he seriously suggested that Latin and Greek were the only subjects that should be taught in the classroom.That man was not, incidentally, Boris Johnson, but Edward Balston.

Balston—the son of William, that famous papermaker familiar to all students of palaeography—attended Eton in the 1820s and early 30s and then entered  King’s College, Cambridge in 1836. Awarded the Browne Medal for Latin verse every year from 1836 to 1839, he was unusually elected Fellow of King’s in 1839, two years before he  graduated, though why it took him five years to gain his B.A. is not adequately explained. In 1842 he became a priest.

Balston loved Eton so much that he couldn’t wait to return there. In 1840, before he had even graduated, he became an assistant master at his alma mater. Twenty two years later he was chosen as Head. In July 1862, not long after his appointment, Balston came up before the Clarendon Commission on Education. On hearing his views on the primacy of classics in the classroom Lord Clarendon was appalled:

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Old Etonians of Note- an exhaustive list

At Jot we love and devour lists...This list was found among the paper of  Norman (Arthur) Routledge (1928-2013), mathematician, teacher of mathematics at Eton and one time friend of Alan Turing. It appears to have been compiled by another teacher, Peter Lawrence, in 1983 and was circulated "in the hope that Masters will without diffidence suggest additions and/or deletions (especially in their own department/field), as well as drawing my attention to any non-OEs I may have included in error…" Reprinted here warts and all:-

OE tie -Gieves & Hawkes
OLD ETONIANS OF NOTE

                                    FICTIONAL

Coningsby, Ld Vere, Millbank &c
  (Disraeli "Coningsby" passim)
Capt Hook (J M Barrie "Peter Pan")
Davy Jones (Erik Linklater "Pirates of
the Deep Green Sea")
Rockingham, Marquess of, "Under Two Flags"
  ('none rowed faster than stroke')
Sultan & Eunuch (C B Cochrane "Nymph Errant")
Bertie Wooster (P G Wodehouse passim)

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Battle of Waterloo not won on the playing-fields of Eton

Further illusions shattered by this small book The Encyclopaedia of Fads and Fallacies by Thomas Jay (Elliott Rightway Books, Kingswood Surrey 1958.) Apparently bulls are colour blind so red rags do not bother them, Turkish baths are not Turkish (and they are not baths) and alcohol cannot be drunk in any concentration strong enough to kill germs. Even the assertion that 'The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton' also appears to be unfounded according to the iconoclastic T. Jay. It seems a pity, as it is one of those poetic ideas like AE's 'In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betrayed.' What Jay actually says is:

The Duke of Wellington is credited with having said 'the The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton.' There is no truth in that assertion. There were only a very small number of officers from Eton at the battle.

The quotation may have been taken too literally by Jay -online research reveals this at the Wikipedia entry on Eton:

According to Nevill (citing the historian Sir Edward Creasy), what Wellington (actually) said, while passing an Eton cricket match many decades later, was, 'There grows the stuff that won Waterloo', a remark Nevill construes as a reference to 'the manly character induced by games and sport' amongst English youth generally, not a comment about Eton specifically. In 1889, Sir William Fraser conflated this uncorroborated remark with the one attributed to him by Count Charles de Montalembert's C'est ici qu' a été gagné la bataille de Waterloo ('It is here that the Battle of Waterloo was won.')

Moholy Nagy 'Dusk at the Playing Fields of Eton'

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At a Lounging Club

From The Microcosm, a periodical work, by Gregory Griffin, of the College of Eton. (Windsor 1788) this piece about a real, or imagined, Loungers Club. The first 40 numbers of The Microcosm were published at Eton between 1786 and 1787. Among the subjects discussed are language, genius, poetics, novels, affectation, translation, imitation, government, genius, etc., 'Gregory Griffin' is the pseudonym of, inter alia, George Canning, Charles Ellis, Hookham Frere, and John and Robert Smith. Written by a group of friends it includes essays on the conduct of life and other cultural and philosophical topics, written as letters from pseudonymous or imaginary correspondents. One cataloguer notes that 'the journal attracted sufficient attention to induce  the publisher, to pay the young editor fifty pounds for the copyright - in all probability the first copy money ever yet paid to a schoolboy.' This probably refers to the most illustrious of the bunch George Canning -his time at Eton has been described as "a triumph almost without parallel. He proved a brilliant classicist, came top of the school, and excelled at public orations".

DEAR GREG. You were in a plaguy hurry to fill up the vacant seat in the lounging club. I should have disputed the pretensions of Narcissus myself, and I am confident there is not a single member of our non-chalance  society, but better deserved the distinction; - Hear, and judge for yourself. - You must know we are a firm CON, who regularly spend our Saturdays in recapitulating the business of the week, and the lucky rouge who proves himself to have done the least good, who has taken the most effectual pains to evade every purpose of his education, to affect indisposition with the greatest art, and loll away his hours with the most perfect indolence, is chosen PRESIDENT for the ensuing week; with many privileges that I may possibly acquaint you with hereafter.  The immediate peals of applause that follow the promotion, would do your heart good, and has made me take more pains to arrive at the honour, than the closest attention to my education would have cost me. 

I proved to the satisfaction of the whole society last Saturday, that all the races of my abilities, discoverable for the last week, were those before them on the chimney piece, from a hot poker. What shouts of applause! and I was actually hustled one foot into the chair, when an unlucky member discovered, that I had taken too much pains in burning the initial letters of my name, and that they remained an indelible proof against me. He sprang into the chair with the anonymous voice of the whole club, for it was proved in his favour, that in the whole course of the week he had done nothing, except indeed throwing a cravat into the fire, because it had been ill washed, and was not brought the moment he ordered it. There was exertion in this, added to some abuse he had given the servant, and voted to dispossess him; but it appeared, that his Tutor, with a mildness peculiar to himself, had taken great pains that very morning to convince him of his errors; that his idleness and extravagance deeply distressed an indulgent father; was ruin to the hopes of his whole family; and a melancholy waste of abilities that he might some time lament, but never have the power to retrieve. To this, and much more, dictated by virtue and friendship, he turned an ear...

Whether a loungers club actually existed or not or whether this is whimsy is anybody's guess. The description seems true; the paradox of the lounger (and idler) is that very little, or no effort must be put into it. 200 years later we have the excellent Idler magazine, which probably takes real work to keep going..