Public School Magazine, February 1902
“YOU were not in the habit of smoking when at school, I suppose, Point?” said the Poet Laureate to me the other evening. He had dropped in for the first time since the occasion on which he had given me the benefit of his opinions on the food question at the Public Schools.
“My dear sir!” I said, indignantly.
“I thought not. You know, Point, there’s a good deal to be said in favour of smoking at school.”
“Not in my presence,” said I.
“I shouldn’t dream of mentioning the subject to you under ordinary circumstances,” said he. “I know your exquisitely fine moral code. But I’ve just had an idea, and you know I get ideas so seldom, that it would be a real kindness if you would just listen for a minute.”
I resolved under these circumstances to be really kind, and my companion resumed.
“I judged that you had had no early training in the art of smoking, Point, from the quality of cigar you gave me just now.”
“What’s wrong with it? It smells all right.”
“Ah, you misunderstand. The cigar I am smoking now, is not the one you gave me. That you will find on the floor, if you care to look. Whenever I am offered a cigar I keep one of my own in readiness in case of emergencies. If the former passes the scrutiny to which I subject it with success, I smoke it. If not, I substitute my own by a dexterous turn of the wrist, and drop the other on the floor. As I said, you will find yours on the floor.
“Now I come to my point. Here we have you, a man remarkable for your upright nature and fine qualities, a man whom I, in common with most other people, respect and admire more than anyone else except Mr. Labouchere, here, I say, we have you simply neutralising all your solid gifts by presenting your friends with cigars, which, if I may say so without offence, are literally not fit to use as penwipers. Now, your friends on receiving them naturally say to themselves, ‘I respect this man greatly, but I cannot allow myself to be poisoned like this. I owe a duty to my family.’ And they make some excuse, and resolve never to risk such a thing again. You follow me? Just so. Well, now what would be the state of things if you had had some early training in this matter? Why, by this time you would be sufficiently acquainted with the ins and outs of the business to know better. And there you are. If you can advance an argument against smoking at school strong enough to upset that, I will thank you to produce it. You can’t. Exactly. Well, the existing rules at the public schools—there, you notice how I simply burst into poetry quite unconsciously?—must be corrected. In future each school will include a cigar examination in its programme. It will be partly written, and partly vivâ-voce. The writing part will include essays on various brands and so on, and searching questions on the history of the cigar. In the vivâ-voce examination the student will be required to sort a number of cigars of different qualities, into their order of merit. He will also be given three cigars, one very good, one very bad, and one moderate. These he must smoke and report upon. A failure in this last test would, of course, be extremely prejudical to his success in the examination. Practical knowledge must always rank higher than a merely theoretical grasp of the subject. Well, what do you think of the idea?”
“I am not altogether certain that I don’t approve of it,” I said. “Now I come to think of it, the idea of a Prefect’s dinner under these conditions would be rather fine. The Head Master at the head of the table carelessly curling a loose leaf round his Flor de Cabbagio cheroot, at a shilling the box of twenty, and on each side of him, a dozen Prefects with clouds of smoke issuing from their dozen mouths. It would be a cheerful scene.”
“It would,” he said. “Then perhaps you’ll just mention the scheme in the ‘P.S.M.’?”
“Certainly,” said I.
So here it is. Revel in it.