BY CANON JAMES M. WILSON D.D.
The first part of my recollections printed in the Barrovian for October, 1924 gives, I believe, a fairly faithful picture of our early years at King William's College. That we all suffered from the conditions of our school life, physically, intellectually, morally, in different degrees, I do not doubt. King William's College was probably not worse than many other schools of its class at that time. It was a time when what we know as the public school spirit, and the sense of responsibility that sprang from Arnold, had not yet reached the smaller schools of the country.
Some constitutions and temperaments, deo adjuvante, and home influences prevailing, were strong enough to throw off the evil effects of those conditions: and there were, even at the time, some strong antiseptic counteracting influences. I will now speak of some of these.
In the foreground of memory stands the out-of-door life - the walks and the scenery. Surely there is no school in all the world that has within range of two or three hours such walks as those to Fort Island, Langness, Santon Glen and Jackdaw Harbour on the one side, or those to Scarlett, and the Stack and Poolvash on the other. Sea and mountains and sky, cliffs and sands and shores, sea birds and gorse.-No : assuredly, there is no place comparable to it. And within a wider range, within a long afternoon's walk and run, what school has anything approaching to the Chasms, and Spanish Head, and the Sound ; to Port Erin and Bradda Head ; to Cronk-na-Irey-Lhaa and South Barrule ? These are what I recall with undying pleasure, on the long summer half-holidays at King William's College, when I was about 15 years old. These were, to some of us, the breath of life, the food of the soul.
How did we get time to go so far ? There were, on summer half-holidays, two callings-over between dinner and lock-up. Leave could sometimes be got; and if refused there was a regular tariff-only 4 pandies for cutting one. But for two the tariff was 16, varying I suppose as the square of the number cut. In this latter case the 16 pandies were sometimes commuted for an equal number of strokes applied elsewhere. We accepted the tariff without even a thought of its absurdity : we took it as we took everything else, for granted, as a part of the system of the universe.
No words can describe the joy and sense of freedom of these walks. Such sky and air; such open space and heather; such sea and rocks ; the unconscious sympathy with mother Earth. We trespassed freely ; College boys had then no character to maintain ; and we had neither scruples nor fear. No one could catch us. It was delightful, and in memory it was always summer.
Geology was then in its infancy; and we were totally ignorant of it. Cumming the Vice-Principal, was a first-rate geologist of his day. But he never hinted to us that within two or three miles of the College were the most unmistakable and convincing illustrations that the British Isles afford, of some of the fundamental facts of geology. It is almost an insult to imagine that any one now at King William's College can be as ignorant as we were then. I will however venture to ask whether there is any one over 16 in the school who has not seen the arch on the inner shore at Langness, where the old-red-sandstone conglomerate: rests unconformably on the denuded edges of Silurian rocks; and has not thought what such a fact implies. If there is such a one, let him go and see it without delay, and puzzle it out. Has any one not wondered at the difference of the two sides of the stream at the mouth of Santon Glen ? If he tries to explain that, he may well be puzzled. It puzzled Cumming. At his request the great Russian Geologist, Count Keyserling, came and studied it. and solved the mystery. Has anyone failed to notice the little dome-like "quaquaversal dips" of the carboniferous limestone on the shore- shortly before you reach the glen ? Where else can they be seen ? And what of the treasures of Scarlett ? There we have basalt ; the ashes of an old world volcano ; the porphgritic and trap dykes intersecting and visibly calcining the mountain limestone ; the said limestone moreover, thrown into splendid folds and curves; capped also with boulder clay, the relic of a glacial age, whose stones, held in the moving glacier above, have deeply striated the surface below. And there is Poolvash, which has furnished rare fossils, and shews traces of a submerged forest of post-glacial age. From Santon to Poolvash is classic ground. Why has no one made a model of it?
These are not strictly school recollections, unless they become so by the fact that -when Dr. Hughes-Games was Principal. I visited the school, and finding that all this was unknown, gave a lecture to the Upper School in the morning, and got a half-holiday to take some 40 or 50 fellows to Scarlett to see these things with their own eyes.
But to resume: freedom, scenery, the place itself, were a a redeeming, purifying, uplifting influence in my school days at King William's College.
An intellectual influence came from the leisure we had for our own reading in our little studies in the Tower. But on this self-education I will say no more. We were thrown on ourselves for literary stimulus, and read whatever pleased us in whatever books we could get hold of. There is some truth in the Scotch saying that ;of "a man kens as much as he has taught himself, and nae mair."
Of moral and religious influences I cannot even faintly recall anything connected with either chapel or school lessons. I remember dreadful Missionary meetings, and a Deputation's thrilling calculation. Four hundred millions the population of China ; average length of life, say 40 years ; so many deaths therefore per annum ; so man, per diem ; so many per hour; so many per minute ; and then, with uplifted hands, " all in hell." And therefore all our pocket money, my poor reluctant three pence, was stopped that week. And I remember one sermon. It was on the text " The door was shut." Shut it was, banged, bolted and barred, on everyone of us. The art of preaching to the young was rare in those days. I somehow got hold of " Lap's Serious Call," and one of Jacob Abbott's books, on "The Life of a Student" : and these, read again and again, made a deep impression on me and on two or three others.
And now, if your Editor will permit, I should wish to add a few remarks, in a different key, on the influence that school atmosphere and training, intellectual and spiritual, may exercise on the later and adult years of life. It is of course far too great a subject for a paragraph or two at the close of an article. But herein lies the value of school reminiscences by old men they may evolve creative visions and ideals in young ones.
On the one hand it is clear, from universal experience, that not the most unfavourable environment can stifle all intellectual genius, or " quench the spirit " of all. It is needless to give illustrations from the past. It is inborn, a divine gift. Some of us at King William's College in my time, men like Farrar, and Brown, and Fowler, or in different lines, like Sir George White and Major Anderson, and Arthur Griffiths, and many others less known to fame, were uninfected by the miasmas of the school, and uninjured by its narrow limitations. We were saved, " yet so as by fire." But on the other hand the waste of ability and character, I am sure was great, incalculable. And therefore the improvement in schools during the last seventy years indicates a real advance in humanization, and opens out fresh visions and hope.
There is, I think, a useful parallel suggested by the advance now taking place in the physical health of the nation. For more than a century the nation acquiesced in the fact that in our Great towns and cities there was a needless and wasteful infantile "death and damage " rate ;-and that we were breeding a physically C3 population, The marvel is that even from the worst slums a certain proportion of fine and, strong men and women emerge. "There is nothing in the world more helpless, and nothing in the world so inconceivably intricate in its construction, and unlimited in its potentialities. as a baby; and yet even in the worst slums nearly 4 out of 5 survive for a year. How is it ? The fact is that God regards human life as far too precious to make it depend entirely on the knowledge and surroundings of its adult caretakers. He has made our bodies, even in unconscious infancy, almost fool-proof. The infant is endowed with amazing vital and recuperative and self healing powers. It insists on living, if possible. But within the last 20 or 25 years the nation has awoke to the wicked waste; and science, applied with devotion, intelligence, and love, first by a few individuals and private societies, and then by the State and Municipal Authorities, has already halved the waste, and improved the physical health of the nation, in spite of all the muddle and mistakes of the past. When our great towns and cities were growing we 'forgot the children,' and their need of space for play and the touch with nature and beauty, Very much remains to be done ; the waste may again be halved, the health again ,greatly improved. That is part of the work your Generation has to do.
Now there is a parallel to all this, not only in the damage inflicted on the intellectual and spiritual life of the present, as a result of the lack of insight in the past, and our own apathy and acquiesence, and lack of ideals and fire in the present ; but also in the persistency of the stream of intellectual and spiritual Life flowing from its Divine source, our Father in heaven, be the surroundings what they may. Genius, literary, artistic, scientific, political, the Spirit and Soul, the breath of the Heavenly and Divine in man, are too precious to be quite extinguishable, though they may be wasted and injured by man's stupidity, and sin. The stream of life, physical, intellectual, spiritual, is the life of God Himself in man, and flows on for ever. Labitur et labetur in omnia volubilis aevum.
But enough on this topic. There are infinite possibilities still before men ; and among the rnachinery to assist in realising them, none takes a higher place than good homes, and good schools (such as King William's College now is), and the Church of Christ.
There is on our little planet a disorder which men, now become conscious of the purpose of Creation are called on, as fellow-workers with God to reduce to order; there is a struggle of forces, and right must become supreme. It is an immense work even for Omnipotence to transform beasts into men. But the work is half done already ; and we have at once the call, and the privilege to help in doing the other half. This is to know God. This is to work for His Kingdom. This makes life worth living.
Thus may reminiscences lead to visions, and visions lead to action.
Dec.,1924. J.M. W.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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