CLAUDE M. FUESS
Independent Schoolmaster

Little, Brown and Company Boston, 1952.

 

XVI

English Interlude

ALTHOUGH verbal labels are usually to be distrusted, I have never been annoyed at being called an Anglophile. It may seem strange that, with an obviously German name and a Bavarian ancestry, I should have grown so fond of England and the English people. Possibly the long line of Moores and Kenyons and Pettibones and Matthewsons and Perkinses on my mother's side may have had something to do with it. But it is more likely that I discovered in England, first through reading and later through travel, an intellectual and spiritual kinship. As far back as 1906 I was thrilled by Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, with its glorious story "A Centurion of the Thirtieth" and the interspersed rhymes, especially Puck's songs ending:

Track way and Camp and City lost,
   Salt Marsh where now is corn;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease.
   And so was England born!

She is not any common Earth;
   Water or wood or air,
But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye,
   Where you and I will fare.

By good fortune I was able to "fare" there very often. My first visit in 1906 was intentionally a literary pilgrimage, during which I went to the conventional places --- to the Scottish Lakes and Edinburgh, to the English Lake Country, to Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick and Kenilworth, to Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain, to Windsor and Stoke Poges, and, of course, to Oxford and Cambridge. With keen delight my friend Sweeney and I bicycled between

These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild.

With the diligence of an ambitious scholar I memorized long passages of poetical description and penetrated to the far corners of museums. At the home of the late Emery Walker, furthermore, I actually met Swinburne and Kipling in the flesh. My only conception of the physical Swinburne had been derived from the famous Watts portrait in the National Gallery showing him with a great shock of reddish hair like some strange-colored chrysanthemum; and when I was introduced to a diminutive man with a head as bare and white as an egg, I was horrified. He said very little, contenting himself with muttering some inaudible words, and it was hard to imagine him as the passionate bard who wrote:

In the greenest growth of the Maytime,
   I rode where the woods were wet,
Between the dawn and the daytime,
   The spring was glad that we met.

As for Kipling, I have a distinct recollection of a short very much bespectacled man who looked like a small edition of Theodore Roosevelt but who uttered outrageous things about America and Americans. I was much too frightened to make any reply and could only slink away defenseless to take refuge with one of my hostess's daughters.

On eleven later trips I learned to know rural England almost as well as I did New Hampshire. With my friend, Mark Stackpole, I walked over Exmoor and Cornwall and Dartmoor, where had roamed recently the hound of the Baskervilles; I climbed Helvellyn and the Peak of Derby; I canoed with Cushing Goodhue down the Thames and the Wye; I covered by walking and bicycling and motoring almost every picturesque inch of the Cotswolds; I went, book in hand, to the Dorchester of Thomas Hardy, the Cornwall of Hugh Walpole, the Five Towns of Arnold Bennett, and the inns made famous by Charles Dickens. In London I took my Baedeker to the houses where Dr. Johnson and Thomas Carlyle and Robert Browning had lived and died. I even spent hours in Baker Street, visualizing the haunts of one of my heroes, Sherlock Holmes. I have been, I think, in every cathedral, from Durham down to Canterbury, and in countless parish churches. The time came when I could hire a small automobile and motor out of London on the Great North Road to Bedford and Sulgrave Manor and tiny villages with funny names tucked away in hollows among the hills.

In 1928, when we had our sesquicentennial celebration at Andover, I had as my house guest Mr. Frederick B. Malim, then Headmaster of Wellington College, in England, and we became well acquainted. Three years later, following my son's graduation from Phillips Academy, I took him on a short summer sightseeing trip to the British Isles, and we stopped to see some of the famous public schools, including Eton, Harrow, and Rugby, as well as Wellington. When shortly afterwards I became Headmaster of Andover, one of the first items on my program was the bringing about of some relationship, formal or informal, between English and American schools. Malim had been at Phillips Academy; I had been at Wellington. The two institutions were comparable in size and aims and prestige. Furthermore Malim and I had the authority to make arrangements without having to consult Boards about details. The first Andover boy to go to Wellington was Frederick W. Griffin, who within a few weeks of his arrival broke every school record in swimming. Griffin returned from his adventure with a bastard English accent which certainly startled his friends but from which, under steady pressure, he eventually recovered. The first exchange student to arrive at Andover from Wellington was Richard Stoker, a fine representative both physically and intellectually of his country. Not only did he make the fifth hole on the North Andover Country Club in one; he was also elected to cum laude and won six senior honors in his studies --- more than any other member of his class. After these initial experiments, Malim and I had no doubt that our project had the happy result of making boys from the two countries respect and like one another.

Before this, Father Sill of the Kent School, together with N. Horton Batchelder, of Loomis School, and W. Houston Lillard, of Tabor Academy, had organized the International Schoolboy Fellowship, through which several American students were sent annually to English schools on an exchange basis. The plan had worked very successfully, and in 1936 I agreed that Andover should become a member. In that year Lincoln Clark, '36, was selected in a vigorous competition to go to Malvern College, where he made an outstanding record.

Since that date, except for two or three of the war years, Andover has regularly received each autumn one English boy, and in return has sent as many as three students to various English schools in one year. I recollect with some amusement and much pride the three young men whom we sent successively to Harrow School, which I had grown to know well because of my friendship with its headmaster, Paul Vellacott. The first was Howard A. Reed, son of one of my Andover trustees, a fine student --- otherwise he could not have been chosen---but also a rugged athlete who, to the amazement of the Harrovians, tossed a twelve-pound shot into the air as if it were a gooseberry and was promptly dubbed "Rosebud." The next year the representative was Walter Aikman, not in any sense an athlete, but a lad with brilliant dramatic gifts who took the leading part in the Harrow dramatic performance of that year. The third was Donald Blackmer, son of one of our Andover masters, a first-rate scholar who actually won the speech contest at Harrow --- a feat never accomplished before by a "foreigner." Mr. Moore, the present Headmaster of Harrow, said to me in 1950, "It would be impossible to find three boys more different, and yet each made an important contribution to some phase of Harrow life."

The number of American and British boys who have enjoyed this experience has grown now to large proportions. Those who have gone to England under the International Schoolboy Fellowship from various schools in this country must have reached considerably more than two hundred, and all have come back as ambassadors of good will. Eventually I was chosen chairman, and in that capacity arranged to have the correspondence and authority taken over by the English-Speaking Union, which now in its New York headquarters arranges all the details and has assumed full responsibility for the functioning of the fellowship.

For a time in the 1930's we had a similar exchange on a smaller scale with Germany, and at least three very carefully selected German youths came to Andover. One of them, Helmuth Scheid, acquired fame by winning, solus et unus, a soccer game with Exeter through an almost miraculous goal in the last few seconds of play. Unfortunately one of the Andover graduates who went to Germany returned a vociferous convert to Nazism, and it became obvious that this particular exchange was not accomplishing what we had expected. When it was evident what Hitler's designs really were, the plan was quickly abandoned.

The escapades of some of our guests were unusual, even startling. One of them, after school was over in June, started out in an ancient Ford car with three American companions on a trip to the West Coast. They had limited funds but unlimited imagination. On a July evening at my summer home in Dublin, New Hampshire, I received a telephone call from New Orleans. The line was not clear, and all that I could understand was that some young Englishman was in jail and needed $300 immediately. Aware of possible international repercussions, I tried to take prompt action, but getting $300 from Dublin to New Orleans on a Sunday evening in summer was not the easiest business in the world. Finally I reached a high official of the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company who, perceiving the emergency, accomplished the necessary miracle. The next morning, when communications were better, I telephoned one of our well-known alumni in New Orleans and asked him to investigate the case. He reported shortly that the English boy had gone into the men's room in a motion picture theater, and as he was removing his coat a pistol dropped from his pocket and a bullet went off into the wall, barely missing a bystander. The police were summoned, and he was apprehended on three serious counts: carrying concealed weapons, impersonating a sheriff, and forgery. It seems that in Denver he had purchased a revolver in a pawnshop. Later in San Francisco he had bought a sheriff's badge in a similar store ---how it got there is an unexplained mystery. Finally he had written a letter to himself purporting to be his appointment as sheriff. When he was arrested, the badge was pinned on his vest and the forged document was in his pocket. It took a judge with a considerable sense of humor to perceive the fun in these antics, and Meigs O. Frost, '07, although he was a well-known journalist in the city, was successful only in reducing the fine to fifty dollars. The young man later appeared at Andover, very much chagrined, and paid up. I regret to have to admit that his American companions apparently ducked out when the trouble began and left the lone Englishman to face the music by himself.

In the spring of 1935 I invited Mr. George C. Turner, then Master of Marlborough College, to deliver at Andover one of the lectures on the Alfred E. Stearns Foundation. He spoke brilliantly on the subject "The English Boarding School." He and his companion, Mr. Sumner Scott, spent two weeks on the Hill, meeting classes and exchanging ideas with faculty members. In 1938, on the same Foundation, came Mr. H. L. O. Flecker, Headmaster of Christ's Hospital, the "Blue Coat" school, who talked about its traditions, aims, and activities. Arrangements were made for both Mr. Turner and Mr. Flecker to visit other schools besides Andover, and they carried back with them personal impressions which helped greatly the whole exchange plan. The Headmaster of Rugby, Mr. Hugh Lyon, was also my guest for a few days in 1946.

In 1947, Mr. Flecker and I, by private arrangement, effected an exchange in instructors, with Mr. Edward Malin coming to Phillips Academy from Christ's Hospital and Mr. Alan R. Blackmer of our staff taking Mr. Malin's place at Horsham. Here the opportunity was offered for two first-rate teachers and observant commentators to learn something of the progress being made in other countries. Each one brought comparisons and contrasts back to his own institution.

In the spring of 1938 I was asked by the English-Speaking Union and the Carnegie Foundation, operating jointly, to go to England to speak at some twenty English public schools. This was a happy blending of duty and pleasure which I could not resist. Accordingly my wife and I persuaded our good friends, Dr. and Mrs. Arthur W. Allen, to accompany us, and we sailed on the Queen Mary in April, returning in time for commencement after a trip which was in every way a Great Adventure. I spoke at various English schools, discussing "The American Scene," in an address which was later published in my little volume, Creed of a Schoolmaster. I tried in my speeches to tell English schoolboys, without boasting or condescension, what the United States was really like. Naturally I had to vary the presentation according to the audience, and Dr. Allen who was compelled by circumstances to hear me early in the trip at Harrow and towards its close at Cheltenham declared that the second performance was very different from the first.

On our arrival at the Dorchester Hotel in London we found a magnificently ornate invitation to attend the dedication of a building at the King's School, in Canterbury, and were advised by Sir Frederick White not to miss it. Not having brought with me the necessary formal garb, I had to resort to the well-known firm of Moss Bros., and for one guinea was made resplendent in cutaway coat, striped trousers, and silk hat. We had already rented a small but brand-new Daimler which I was planning to drive myself; but we realized that on this occasion we had to be more "swank," and finally engaged a chauffeur who had once (so he said) been in the employ of the Queen of Norway. So, with a large placard on our windshield, we started off for Canterbury. As soon as we left Rochester, we began to meet long lines of boys who stood stiffly at attention, saluted, and sang "God Save the King!" with volume and vigor. Soon I was removing my "topper" every two or three hundred feet. "What's going on?" I asked the chauffeur. "I think, sir," he replied, "that they mistake you for the Duke and Duchess of Kent." Whatever their delusion, the crowds greeted us as if we were royalty, and we enjoyed the deception until we drove into the courtyard at Canterbury.

The dedication ceremonies were truly impressive. Both the archbishop and the dean were present, with the genuine Duke of Kent presiding, and on the dais were sitting also Hugh Walpole and Somerset Maugham, both Old Boys of the King's School. The headmaster's name was Shirley, and virtually every speaker titillated the company by referring to the new building as "Shirley's Temple," until the joke was worn threadbare. Pages dressed in Elizabethan style, with ruffs and blue knickerbockers, escorted the guests to their places. When I was called upon as a "foreign" visitor to make a few remarks, I felt very commonplace in my conventional tails. Simply as a show, the dedication was packed with pageantry, and every detail was worked out to perfection. After this introduction to English pomp and circumstance, anything in the future was bound to seem an anticlimax.

My first formal address on my trip was scheduled for Harrow School, and when, after an excellent luncheon with the Headmaster, Paul Vellacott, I was presented in the famous Speech Hall to seven hundred or more young Englishmen, I was more frightened than I had ever been in my life. The room itself, semicircular in shape like an amphitheater, is beautiful and rich in historical associations; but I was thinking even more of the audience and what I could say to hold their attention. Like a similar group of schoolboys in America, however, they were not only attentive but generous in their applause. When I discovered that English-speaking boys everywhere laugh at the same jokes and respond to the same appeals, I felt more at ease, and the talk after that went uneventfully to the peroration. Once I had been initiated, I felt that I could talk, if necessary, in the Guild Hall without being too much perturbed. British courtesy and friendliness made me feel at ease wherever I went.

After Harrow, my wife and I moved by motor to Cambridge and Oxford and to some of the other public schools, not only to Wellington and Marlborough and Rugby, which I had visited on previous trips but also to Stowe, Felsted, Leys, Radley, Clifton, Malvern, and others which were new to me and from which I learned much about English secondary education. I was at dinner with the Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on that fateful week end when the Czechs decreed a partial mobilization of their army and it looked as if England might be at war before Monday dawned. The bright candles flickered on the ancient silver and the polished mahogany and the other symbols of British civilization ---and there we were talking quietly about what might happen if Hitler did not cease his aggressive acts. The silence which followed the toast to the King was like many other such silences in English history, and each one present knew what was going through the mind of his neighbor.

I am an internationalist by philosophy, believing in the Brotherhood of Man and even in "the Federation of the World." Strongly and practically contributory to that end is the alliance between the United States of America and the British Commonwealth of Nations, and I was therefore pleased after my retirement to accept the Presidency of the Boston branch of the English-Speaking Union. Our similar backgrounds and cultural ideals make a stronger bond than any formal peace treaty. With common interests and aims we can help one another with the assurance that neither country will have a monopoly of giving. If this world is ever to resume its evolution towards a millennium, it will be because the English-speaking peoples have forgotten their petty jealousies and enmities and joined to create a new Renaissance of mind and spirit.

When once a question has been settled, worry must be left behind. Too many headmasters waste time by brooding over mistakes. The head should do his best to assemble the evidence, weigh it in his mind, and reach a just conclusion. Having done all this, he should proceed to the next problem. The congenital or chronic worrier will never be happy in the headmaster's office.

I wish that I could boast that I always practiced what I am here preaching. Some of what became my creed I learned gradually, as a consequence of bitter experience. Confronted with unexpected emergencies, I often lost my temper or had a rise in blood pressure. But the fact that we do not always keep the Great Commandments does not lessen their significance as a guide to conduct. And a headmaster as much as anybody should have a philosophy by which his decisions may be tested.