Public School Magazine, June 1901
If the gentleman who wished to know where the boys of the old brigade were, had applied to me personally for information instead of trusting to the musical press, I could have satisfied him at once by replying, “In the City.” To a thoughtful mind like my own there is something intensely horrifying in the way in which the City takes its annual toll of victims from the Public Schools, dumps them down on a high stool, and sucks their blood. Take your stand at one o’clock some day when you have time, at the spot where Lombard Street, Cornhill, and Threadneedle Street merge themselves in one, and you shall see a sorry sight. Whose is this form, this knock-kneed, bowed, repulsively-respectable form, that ambles towards you? Great Scott! Can it be! No! Yes! Yes, it is Smythe, the Smythe, the great and only Smythe, whom once you regarded with a great deal more respect than you used towards the Head himself. Smythe, by jove, who made that magnificent century against Rugborough, who defied Roche and paralysed Rawlin in the M.C.C. match, who dropped a left-foot goal against Uppington in the last five minutes, who—did scores of things of which the average mortal clay is physically incapable. And here he is once more, wearing the desperate look of those who lunch at a.b.c. shops or play dominoes with companions in frock-coats and straw-hats. Ah! Horrible! You turn to wipe away a tear, and even as you turn, you see a second form, only too obviously all that is left of what was once De Browne. Had De Browne gone up to the ’Varsity he had been a swell of the swells. His name might have been as well-known as that of the Cadet branch of his family, the plain Browns without the prefix or the final e. The sporting papers might have praised him. The great company of the evening papers might have praised him. Alas, poor wreck! He was a sprinter, was the late (or practically late) De Browne. His time for the hundred was infinitesimal. And now! If he ever sprints now, it is in obedience to the summons of the manager of his Bank, or to catch a ’bus.
“For he heard the voice of his father say
In tones devoid of pity:
‘You aren’t going up to the ’Varsitay.
For I’ve got you a place in the City.’ ”
A little thing of my own. I call it “Ichabod.” To let De Browne and Smythe know that you have looked upon them in their fallen state is impossible. The dictates of common humanity cry out against it. But how shall you escape? Ha! The twopenny subway. You fly, and at the foot of the stairs plunge into a group of four, and one of the four is Rhobynsohn, and you shriek aloud to the unresponsive ceiling in your agony. For in days of yore Rhobynsohn was your hero, and his feats eclipsed those of Smythe and De Browne put together. A mad rush, an expenditure of twopence, a brief interval, and you are speeding away from this City of Dreadful Sights to the sunlit purlieus of Oxford Circus. And many an ice at Buzzard’s will be needed before the memory of those lost souls ceases to haunt you. (The strawberry are the best, I always think).
Why is it, I wonder, that the City cannot content itself with those of lesser breed, the Form-prize winners, the prize-essay writers, and the hundred and one other quaint characters that haunt our Public Schools? Why is it that whenever a batsman bats, or a bowler bowls with skill beyond the common, the Vampire City claims him for her own? Joynes, my own contemporary at school, was in the cricket and the football teams, and boxed at Aldershot. Now he plays football never, and cricket but rarely, and his pugilistic skill is entirely in abeyance. He has not so much as looked on a boxing-glove since he swam through a sea of gore to that silver medal of the year ——. His father, like so many of us, was far from being a man of millions, and snapped at a vacancy in an insurance Office. Poor Joynes was pitch-forked in, a sop of forty pounds a year was thrown to him in exchange for his blood, et voilà tout. He would have done great things at the ’Varsity. Another of my contemporaries, on the other hand, being possessed of a wealthy sire, went up for four years to Oxford, did neither himself nor his school the least credit, got “ragged” daily, and finally degenerated into a Don. Joynes would have got his cricket “blue” for a certainty, and his footer, at the time when he left school, would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of Mr. G. O. Smith.
Heu! Formose puer, siqua fata aspera rumpas
Tu Marcellus eris.
The above lines are not mine. They are by a friend, though I have written just as good myself. I must read them to you some time. Remind me.
But I digress. Why is it, I repeat, that the flowers of School Athletics are born to blush unseen, and waste their sweetness on an office stool? My friends, it is the rotten way this world’s run. I would give something to manage matters for five minutes. Just five minutes. Yes, sir!
Heu! Formose puer, siqua fata aspera rumpas. — “Dear child of pity! Shouldst thou burst the dungeon
bars of Fate accurst, Our own Marcellus thou!” (Virgil, The Aeneid, VI, 882; tr. John Conington.)
G. O. Smith was a nineteenth-century amateur footballer often referred to as “the first great centre forward.”
the boys of the old brigade: Not the 20th-century Irish Republican song, but an 1881 slow march still played in honor of the military dead.
Another translation of Virgil’s Latin is “Ah, boy to be pitied, if only you may shatter harsh fate, you'll be a Marcellus!” Recall that Wodehouse was still an employee of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in the City while writing this and other works in his spare time; he would not leave the Bank for a freelance writing career until September 1902. Psmith in the City (serialized as “The New Fold”) was written in 1908, and even after the passage of a few years it retains the poignancy of the disappointed student-athlete whose University career was denied him. Reading this more immediate diatribe for the first time brought tears to the eyes of your editor.