At the end of my time I rose to moderate distinction. I began to read the classics privately, I reached sixth form, and even was elected into Pop. But I was always unadventurous, and in a way timid. I nurtured a private life of my own on books and talk, and felt that the centre of life had insensibly shifted from home to school. But in and through it all, I never gained any deep patriotism, any unselfish ambition, any visions which could have inspired me to play a noble part in the world. I am sure that was as much the result of my own temperament as of the spirit of the place; but the spirit of the place was potent, and taught me to acquiesce in an ideal of decorum, of subordination, of regular, courteous, unenthusiastic life.
Leaving the school was a melancholy business; one’s roots were entwined very deep with the soil, the buildings, the memories, the happiness of the place—for happy above all things it was—in the last few weeks there were many strange emotional outbursts from boys who had seemed conventional enough; and there was a dreary sense that life was at an end, and would have little of future brightness or excitement to provide. I packed, I made my farewells, I distributed presents; and as I drove away, the carriage, ascending the bridge by the beloved playing-fields, with its lawns and elms, the gliding river and the castle towering up behind, showed me in a glance the old red-brick walls, the turrets, the high chapel, with its pinnacles and great buttresses, where seven good years had been spent. I burst, I remember, into unashamed tears; but no sense of regret for failure, or idleness, or vacuous case, or absence of all fine intention, came over me, though I had been guilty of all these things. I wish that I had felt remorse! But I was only grateful and fond and sad at leaving so untroubled and delightful a piece of life behind me. The world ahead did not seem to me to hold out anything which I burned to do or to achieve; it was but the closing of a door, the end of a chapter, the sudden silencing of a music, sweet to hear, which could not come again.
That was all five-and-thirty years ago! Since that time—I have seen it unmistakably, both as a schoolmaster and as a don—a different spirit has grown up, a sense of corporate and social duty, a larger idea of national service, not loudly advertised but deeply rooted, and far removed from the undisciplined individualism of my boyhood. It has been a secret growth, not an educational programme. The Boer War, I think, revealed its presence, and the war we are now waging has testified to its mature strength. It has come partly by organisation, and still more through the workings of a more generous and self-sacrificing ideal. In any case it is a great and noble harvest; and I rejoice with all my heart that it has thus ripened and borne fruit, in courage and disinterestedness, and high-hearted public spirit.