LORD BERNERS ON HIS BOYHOOD 1883-99
Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt (18 September 1883 – 19 April 1950), who succeeded an uncle as the 14th Baron Berners in 1918, was an eccentric English composer, writer and painter. As Lord Berners, he published two memoirs of his childhood: First Childhood (London, 1934) and A Distant Prospect (), of which the second follows straight on from the first. The Greek love content of both are presented here together.
Berners disguises the names of people and places in his memoirs, though this cannot be solely to avoid upset, as he claimed, as it is sometimes done with absurd transparency. Many of the real names can very easily be recovered from sources in the public domain.
Chapter XIV. Elmley
Describing his first school, “Elmley”, really Cheam, a preparatory school in Surrey, to which he was sent in April 1893:
When I first went to school I seem to have had curiously exaggerated impressions of relative age. I was then nine, and boys of fourteen appeared to me to be immeasurably older, almost grown up; and there seemed to be little difference between the monitors and the masters. Like most small boys I was an ardent hero-worshipper. The particular hero that took my fancy at Elmley was a boy called Longworth. He was the Captain of the Second Eleven. He seemed to me to embody every possible perfection. He was a tall, athletic, fair-haired youth with regular features and an engaging smile. He reminded me of one of Flaxman's illustrations to the Iliad. In the normal course of school life such a paragon would hardly be likely to pay any attention to so humble an individual as myself, or to be aware even of my existence. Perhaps, if I were to distinguish myself by unusual prowess at cricket... but, as far as my skill at cricket was concerned, this would be out of the question for a long time to come. How I wished that it had been Longworth's parents who had asked him to look after me! I wondered if anything might possibly be done through domestic channels. I wrote to my mother, imploring her to make inquiries among her acquaintances as to whether any of them knew some people called Longworth who had a son at Elmley. I tried to find out where he lived. But all this got me no farther. It seemed a hopeless quest, and I had to resign myself to gazing at him wistfully from afar. […]
Chapter XVI Boxhill
On the school’s annual excursion to Boxhill towards the end of the summer term, the boys were divided into two armies for a traditional battle:
After the battle had been raging for an hour or so I was sent out as a scout, to reconnoitre. The Captain had chosen me, not on account of any prowess I had displayed, but merely because I happened to be on the spot at the time. Nevertheless, I felt very proud at having been selected, and I set out, in a valiant mood, determined to distinguish myself in some way or other. I had not gone far when a figure leapt out upon me from behind a tree. I had just made for myself a formidable cudgel and, with it, I hit my assailant a terrific crack over the head. Almost simultaneously I realised that it was Longworth. He staggered forward and fell to the ground. To my horror I saw blood pouring down his face and on to his shirt. As a matter of fact it was only his nose that was bleeding, but the spectacle of the fallen hero petrified me with fear. I remained rooted to the spot, not knowing what to do. A crowd of boys appeared, clustering round the murderous scene. I heard someone say "He's killed Longworth!" A momentary truce was declared, while the resuscitated Longworth struggled to his feet. He gave me an angry glance, and muttering "You little brute!" walked away, with dignity, through the trees.
He was not really hurt, and the incident was a trivial one in the wear and tear of the afternoon's warfare, but it embittered the rest of the day for me. It seemed a particularly malevolent stroke of ill-fortune that I should have injured just the one person I most wished to propitiate. I had craved for Longworth's attention and only too successfully had I succeeded in attracting it.
* * * * *
It was long past sundown when the school reassembled on the platform of Boxhill station. After this glorious day of liberty the return journey was tinged with an "after the party" feeling. Most of us were rather exhausted by our activities, although there were one or two boys whose heartiness nothing could tire, and who continued, throughout the journey back, to be uproarious to a weary audience. My unfortunate experience with Longworth continued to haunt me and, although the incident seemed to have passed unnoticed in the general turmoil and was not even mentioned among the various more exciting chronicles of the day's exploits, self-consciousness and remorse magnified it into vast proportions.
Longworth himself showed no desire to chastise my impertinence. I passed close to him on the station platform and I realised, from his attitude of Olympian contempt, that the incident had been dismissed and that I had been consigned once more to the oblivion out of which, for one brief moment, I had poked my head.
Chapter XX. The School Concert
Towards the end of the Winter Term there took place the annual, School Concert. A platform was erected in the big Assembly Room; the walls were decorated with paper flowers and Japanese lanterns were hung from the rafters. Everything was done to make the gloomy, scholastic-looking hall look as frivolous as possible.
During the week before the concert there prevailed an enjoyable undercurrent of excitement, even amongst those who were not performing in the concert themselves. Parents came down for the occasion, the day was a half-holiday, and the supper, consisting of cakes and ices, lemonade and other non-alcoholic drinks, was almost sumptuous. The holidays were within sight and there was a happy breaking-up feeling in the air.
For my first appearance on the concert platform, Sammy had insisted upon my learning a piece called "The Lover and the Bird." The piece was constructed out of a single theme of nauseating sweetness accompanied at intervals by a riot of trills and arpeggios. If it suggested anything at all, it put one in mind of a dialogue between a sentimental old maid and her canary. It was almost worse than "Les Cloches du Monastère" and I hated having to play it. However, I learnt to execute the piece with a certain amount of brio. As it sounded very difficult, my apparent virtuosity together with my diminutive stature created a favourable impression on the audience and the item was one of the biggest successes of the programme. Both my mother and my father were present, and as I rather shyly acknowledged the applause I was glad to think of them assisting at my triumph. I hoped that it might perhaps reconcile them to my musical tastes. When I joined them later, I could see that my mother's pride was flattered, and even my father seemed pleased, if a little supercilious. He told me that the "Lover and the Bird" had been one of Lady Bourchier's favourite pieces in the unregenerate days before her conversion, and that she had recently said that if she could hear it again she would die happy. He added that he hoped I would go and play it to her as soon as possible.
In the interval between the concert and supper, the boys and their parents assembled in the Lobby. My father's elegance and his slightly swaggering manner became a source of pride to me as soon as they were removed from the home circle, where I found them a trifle oppressive. Even Mr. Gambril seemed to be a little overawed, and I noticed with some satisfaction that his bearing towards my father was almost servile. But what thrilled me even more was the sight of my father engaged in conversation with Longworth's mother, who was standing with her arm round her eldest son's neck. Hastily detaching myself from my mother I approached the group. Mrs. Longworth made some complimentary remark and, to my amazement and delight, Longworth Major smiled at me and said "Well played!" just as though I had hit a boundary or scored a goal. If Longworth had been Chopin himself this simple tribute could scarcely have caused me a wilder joy. The applause of the audience faded into insignificance.
In spite of the Boxhill episode and his Olympian aloofness, which seemed to create a barrier I could never hope to surmount, Longworth still continued to occupy the foremost place in my hero worship. I watched his actions with the same eager interest with which Suburbia follows the doings of royalty. I even went so far as to envisage a situation in which one of my parents (preferably my father) and one of Longworth's should be simultaneously removed, and the two that remained should marry, so that Longworth and I should become step-brothers; he would be obliged to notice me then! I had never ventured to open my heart to any of my contemporaries. Indeed, whenever anyone made a disparaging remark about the object of my secret devotion, prudence restrained me from protesting, and I was forced to content myself with the inner assurance that my adoration was justified.
Coming on the top of my success at the concert, Longworth's unexpected condescension filled my cup of happiness to overflowing. Had I been in a less exalted frame of mind, I might have sobered myself with the reflection that it had been merely due to courtesy incidental to the presence of parents and to the exceptionally convivial nature of the occasion and that, on the morrow, when school life resumed its normal state, I should relapse once more, as far as he was concerned, into oblivion. But I was intoxicated by the glamour of success and I did not allow such distressing thoughts to enter my mind. That night I lay awake into the small hours of the night weaving a visionary epic of a long series of musical triumphs, interspersed with adventures in which Longworth and I were the protagonists.
* * * * *
Chapter XXI. The Easter Term
[…]But above and beyond the mellowing influences of the Headmaster's good humour, I had another and far more important source of happiness. Longworth's gracious condescension on the evening of the School Concert had not, as I had feared, proved an isolated expression actuated by unusual circumstances. On the first day of the Easter Term, when I met him in the Lobby, I had hardly dared to hope for recognition, but, as he passed, he gave me a very amiable smile and asked me if I had enjoyed my holidays. My heart beat with such violence that I could scarcely answer, and I rushed out into the playground, as a dog goes off with a bone, to gloat over my emotion in solitude. It seemed almost impossible that a thing that I had dreamt of, that I had longed for so passionately, could actually have come to pass. In my brief experience of school life I had met with so many disillusionments that I was beginning almost automatically to expect disappointment as the inevitable outcome of my ambitions.
Longworth sat opposite to me in chapel in the Monitors' pew. I glanced furtively at him and again he caught my eye and smiled. After this I lost no opportunity of placing myself, as it were by accident, in his way. My tactics were successful. With every meeting his cordiality increased, until finally, at the end of the first week, there sprang up between us a definite friendship.
It has become a little difficult in these days of intensive sex-sophistication to write about school friendships, particularly of one between an older and a younger boy. In those innocent, pre-Freudian, pre-Havelock Ellis generations how lucky were the authors of school stories! They could write of such things quite naïvely, without any fear that their readers would automatically place their tongues in their cheeks and indulge in a knowing leer. I can only say that if my feelings towards Longworth were of a sexual nature I was certainly not aware of it at the time, and I was in the ingenuous condition of Monsieur Jourdain before he realised that what he was saying was prose. I cannot, however, deny that my infatuation for this boy-hero of my school-days was accompanied by all the usual symptoms connected with sexual attraction. His image haunted my waking thoughts and my dreams. Anything in the least way related to him, however commonplace, however trivial, was imbued with an almost celestial radiance. The thought of this friendship for ever at the back of my mind was like the possession of some glorious work of art in sordid surroundings; at any moment I could contemplate it and refresh myself with its beauty. It gave a zest to the dullness of school routine, while it lent a new vitality to the things I liked. When, in the course of our Greek lessons, we read of the Homeric demi-gods, beings half human and half divine, who walked among mortals but were not of the same common clay, for me it was always Longworth who filled the picture, and the embodiment shed a radiance over the dreary hours of Greek construing. At other times he appeared to me in the guise of a Henty hero, and although I did not appreciate Henty as an author, one of his heroes in flesh and blood was quite a different matter, just as a sunset or a flower garden which, in pictorial representation, would make one shudder may be, in nature, a thing of beauty and delight.
But of what Longworth was really like I have no longer the vaguest idea. I imagine he must have been a very ordinary sort of boy, and certainly devoid of any conspicuous intellectual qualifications. I only remember that he was very good-looking, and that he excelled in all the things that make for prominence in school life. He happened to satisfy a youthful craving for some object of romantic devotion and, up till then, in the environment of my home there had been no such inspiring figure.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to understand what attraction I could possibly have had for Longworth, and what it can have been that induced him to single me out for his favour after having, for so long a period, ignored me. I can only suppose that my appearance on the concert platform must have invested me, for a moment, with a certain glamour and opened his eyes to a form of publicity in which he himself could never expect to excel. (In my own experience I have often felt a favourable reaction towards people to whom I would not naturally be drawn, when I have seen them exhibiting with conspicuous success some talent particularly alien to my own.) This may perhaps have established a sort of telepathic contact through which the sentiments I had so long and so ardently cherished for him were enabled to make themselves felt.
At Elmley friendships between older and younger boys were unusual. Age distinctions were as rigidly observed as class distinctions in pre-war Vienna, and Longworth's lapse in this respect elicited a good deal of comment. Among my own contemporaries I could see that this new intimacy gave rise to considerable irritation, and I am afraid that I took a certain pleasure in parading it. The backing of an influential protector made me perhaps even a little overbearing in my relations with boys of my own standing. At that time I had still a great deal to learn about tact, and also, alas! about human nature. The immediate pleasure the friendship afforded me tended to obscure the fact that there was in its essence something precarious, something akin to that "putting your trust in princes" against which the Scriptures so wisely warn us. The hierarchical barrier between an older and a younger boy, temporarily displaced, may at any moment be re-established, just as a royal personage, after a moment of condescension, may unexpectedly relapse into the first person plural, the Royal "We," and assume once more the divinity that doth hedge a king; an experience I was presently to undergo in all its bitterness. In my first enjoyment of what I imagined to be a real friendship I naïvely imagined that such relationships could not be broken off except under the most catastrophic circumstances.
I knew quite well that Longworth was leaving the school at the end of the next term. But time at school was measured by different standards to those of ordinary life, and the end of the coming Summer Term seemed infinitely remote.
* * * * *
Chapter XXII. On the Roof
The next term, the Summer 1894 one, Tyrwhitt was obliged to play cricket every day, which he disliked and was no good at …
But, apart from the fact that I was not a born cricketer, I had another very cogent reason for disliking the game. It was instrumental in separating me from Longworth. During the Easter Term, when Athletic Sports were the order of the day, boys of different ages mingled together more freely, and older boys would often take an interest in the athletic activities of the younger ones. "Athletics" was the only form of sport at which I was any good: Longworth spent a good deal of time coaching me, and it was largely due to his tuition that I managed to win several prizes for running, jumping and hurdling. In the cricket term, on the contrary, the distinctions of age and skill were accentuated. Boys playing on the same cricket-fields clung together and formed cliques. The only time I was able to see anything of Longworth was on Sundays, and during the short intervals between the school hours on weekdays. Disregarding the official segregation, he made one or two attempts to teach me how to bowl and bat; they were not very successful and after a while he gave it up in despair. I could not help feeling that a severe strain had been put upon our friendship and, once or twice, I fancied I detected indications that the relationship between us was not quite as it had been. But I had not yet learnt the technique of manipulating a difficult situation and, when incidents arose that ought to have been a warning to me, I was as unskilful in dealing with them as, in cricket, I was clumsy in catching the ball or in wielding my bat.
* * * * *
In the course of the Summer Term, Longworth and some of his friends had formed the nefarious habit of going up on to the roof at night to smoke; an evil practice savouring of the worst excesses of "St. Winifred's." On account of their extreme daring these proceedings were naturally kept very secret. The school in general knew nothing of these midnight orgies, and I only knew because Longworth had told me under the strictest pledge of silence.
I used to lie awake at night in a state of feverish excitement, thinking of what was going on overhead while the school lay sleeping in blissful unconsciousness. It was as thrilling as being privy to the operations of a criminal gang. At moments I almost hoped that they might be found out so that, in the tremendous scandal that would ensue, I should be able to boast that I had known about it all along. Then the thought of Longworth being expelled would cause me almost simultaneously to offer up a prayer for their welfare.
One evening Longworth suggested that I should, that night, go up alone with him on the roof. I was flattered and delighted by the invitation, but at the same time I was terrified at the idea of such audacity. I would have given anything in the world to refuse; yet, after the failure of his efforts to turn me into a cricketer, I felt that it might be fatal to say No. It was possible that he was setting a trap to test my courage.
And so, as soon as silence reigned in the house, I crept out of my dormitory and met him on the top landing near the ladder which led out on to the roof. There was a full moon that night. This made the expedition even more alarming, and the moon kept peeping out from behind the clouds like a malevolent watchman.
We crouched in the shadow of a chimney. Longworth produced a packet of cigarettes. I had never smoked before, although I pretended to him that I had. I was afraid at first that I might not be able to get the thing to light and several matches were wasted before I was successful. It was also the first time that I had ever been on the roof. The view of the familiar corn-fields seen under the shifting light of the moon was entrancingly beautiful. My confidence was somewhat restored and I began to puff vigorously at my cigarette while we conversed in husky whispers. I was very happy. The comradeship of adventure seemed to have restored the sense of intimacy lost through cricket, and the fact that Longworth had asked me to accompany him on this perilous expedition seemed to me to be a proof of the constancy of his devotion. I wished that this tête-à-tête on the tiles could have been prolonged indefinitely. But, alas! the Faustian lapse ("Verweile doch du bist so schön!"), the desire to eternalise a moment of happiness, brought me ill-luck. After a while a breeze got up and it grew very cold. My nightgown flapped in the wind and my teeth began to chatter. I looked at my companion hoping that he would suggest going down. He seemed, however, quite undisturbed by the change of temperature and lay back against the roof with his eyes closed. The light of the moon fell full on his face and made it glow like alabaster against the shadowy background. Never before in my life had I seen such disturbing beauty in a human face. For a moment I forgot my acute discomfort and stared at him in wonder. He had perhaps some telepathic inkling of the wave of awe-struck admiration that swept over me, for he suddenly threw his arm round my neck and drew me closer to him. Then a dreadful thing occurred. Almost before I knew what was happening I was violently sick. Longworth sprang to his feet. "Shut up, you little fool!" he hissed at me. But it was all very well to say "Shut up!" I was beyond all possibility of shutting up. He snatched the half-smoked cigarette from my fingers while I lay gasping and retching at his feet. The noise I made was appalling and could not for one moment have been mistaken for the cry of a night-bird or any of the usual nocturnal sounds. But I felt so wretchedly ill and miserable that even the appearance of Mr. Gambril himself would have left me unmoved.
At last I recovered a little and was able to stagger to my feet. I made for the skylight with faltering steps and managed to get down the ladder. Longworth followed me. As we parted to return to our respective dormitories he gave me a look in which fury was mingled with contempt.
Chapter XXIII. The Bible-throwing Episode
Tyrwhitt provoked the headmaster’s fury being caught throwing his bible onto the floor on a Sabbath. However, returning to his schoolroom from the headmaster’s study, he found himself “at once surrounded by an interested crowd.”…
Indeed I felt myself almost a hero. My thoughts turned to Longworth. I hoped that my act of audacity might perhaps tend to counteract the lamentable impression left by the incident on the roof. But I could find him nowhere.
The bell tolled for morning chapel. I knew that I should see him there, for his place was directly opposite mine on the other side of the aisle. We had been in the habit, ever since the beginning of our friendship, of enlivening the service by exchanging signs and grimaces, flicking pellets of paper at one another, and seeing how far we could go without attracting the attention of the masters. But now I noticed, with growing concern, that Longworth was deliberately trying to avoid looking in my direction. I was bewildered by his behaviour and I found it impossible to believe that the Bible-throwing business could have anything to do with it. Hitherto he had never betrayed any symptoms of excessive piety.
As we left the chapel I at last managed to catch his eye, but, to my horror, I was met by so chilling a stare that it gave me the sensation of a door being slammed in my face. If I had only had more self-assurance and less amour-propre, I should have accosted him then and there and asked for an explanation. But amour-propre, alas! is for ever getting in the way and complicating human relationships. In the interval between chapel and the luncheon hour I came face to face with him in the Lobby. I was not going to risk the humiliation of a public rebuff, and so I deliberately cut him.
It was a decision taken in a lost cause, and, as it often happens in such cases, I was haunted for a long time afterwards by vain regrets. I would re-enact again and again in my memory the circumstances of this fateful meeting, wondering whether, if I had made a last frantic effort at reconciliation, it might perhaps have altered matters. But, at the moment when it occurred, it seemed as though fatality lay heavy on me. It was useless to struggle against it and the only thing left for me to do was to eclipse myself as gracefully as possible. I made no attempt to approach Longworth through an intermediary. There was nobody I felt I could trust to act in this capacity, nor did I wish it to be known that I "minded." The position of one who has been dropped is humiliating, and it was particularly so in this case. The friendship with Longworth, and my own rather injudicious attitude in the matter, had not endeared me to some of my contemporaries, who did not hesitate to parade the malicious pleasure my fall from favour afforded them. It was impossible to disguise the fact that it was Longworth who had decided the rupture of our relations; had it been a case of friendship between equals I might perhaps have pretended that it was I who had taken the initiative, or, had I been more sophisticated, I might even have invented an incident which called for a display of outraged virtue.
I heard, later on, the reasons that Longworth gave for having broken with me. He said that he at last realised that it didn't do for a fellow in his position to be intimate with a mere kid, that I had shown a tendency to presume on his friendship and that I had been getting too "cheeky." He said that the Bible-throwing business had given him a good excuse to put an end to the affair.
It had been obvious to me from the beginning that the Bible-throwing had been a mere pretext. I was continually haunted by the thought that if only I had been less obtuse, if I had realised more fully how precarious my relations with Longworth had been growing during the last few weeks, perhaps this disastrous climax might have been averted. I reviewed in my memory each single event that had taken place during the previous months, pondering with self-torturing intensity upon each word or action that might have hastened the friendship to its end, leading up to the culminating episode on the roof which had given it its death-blow. My reflections inevitably ended in the sorrowful conclusion that I had lost Longworth through some inherent defect in my character, a defect that it might be impossible to remedy and one which, throughout my whole career, would stand, like the Angel with the flaming sword, in front of every paradise I sought to enter. I called to mind all the humiliations I had suffered during my short life, all the people who had disliked or despised me—Nesta, Cousin Emily, Mademoiselle Bock—and they seemed to circle above me in the dusky air like the Eumenides, pointing at me fingers of scorn.
The remainder of the Summer Term was utter misery. Longworth's friendship had been the one bright flame that lit up my dreary existence at Elmley and had made school life glow with a pleasant radiance. I fell into a state of deep depression. Even Mrs. Gambril noticed that something was amiss. She sent for me and inquired if I had any secret trouble. She asked me if I were being bullied. This I indignantly denied. That was, in any case, a thing that one would never admit. She plied me with questions and finally, in desperation, ordered me a tonic, to be taken daily after meals. Its bitter taste was a daily complement to the bitterness of my heart. I wished that it could have been the waters of Lethe. Each day there was the recurrent agony (like a vulture tearing at my liver) of being obliged, in chapel, to sit opposite the cause of all my misery and to meet with never a flicker of recognition on that once so friendly face. Now, whenever his eyes chanced to meet mine, I encountered the cold, inhuman gaze of an archaic statue.
Chapter XXV. Epilogue
Summarising the remainder of his four years at “Elmley” (Cheam):
The break-up of my friendship with Longworth and all its attendant humiliation and misery affected me deeply. […]
After explaining his simultaneous demoralisation that ”Arley” (really Apley), the principal home of his childhood, had been transformed into a deeply depressing place due to the influence of a malevolent cousin:
The combination of these two discouragements, the Longworth episode and the change at Arley, cast a benumbing spell upon the closing years of my childhood, and it was not until I left Elmley for Eton, which coincided with the transition from childhood to adolescence, that a new and more vigorous chapter in my life began.
A DISTANT PROSPECT
Chapter II. The Holiday Tutor
Describing “Mr. Prout”, an unattractive “assistant master at a small preparatory school” and a clergyman, who came to coach Tyrwhitt for the Eton entrance examination during the Easter holidays in 1897, when he was thirteen:
He said that the only point he had in common with the ancient Greeks was his predilection for athletics, and that games brought him into closer contact with young people. There was perhaps another point he had in common with the ancient Greeks, for I subsequently heard that he succeeded in getting himself into closer contact with young people than was thought desirable by the school authorities. I noticed that he was rather persistent in his demonstrations of affection. He was continually patting my head or stroking my hair. However, I suffered this embarrassing friendliness with a good grace. I only wondered if it might not perhaps have something to do with a ceremony I had read of in the Prayer-book called The Laying on of Hands.
Chapter VI. A Musical Adventure. Incursions into the Demi-Monde
Whilst still a new boy at Eton in the summer of 1897, Tyrwhitt was discovered one evening by Ainslie, a boy in “the Library” (ie. a house prefect, probably thus in the top year and aged 18), playing the piano well, and he was told to return to play it again the following evening …
When Ainslie appeared he was not alone. He brought with him four or five members of the Library, and among them Faulkner, my fag-master. My relations with him were of a menial character. I emptied his bath, made his toast, took his trousers to the tailor’s to be pressed. Beyond having once burnt the toast, I had given him no serious cause for displeasure. Yet his presence, together with all these grand people, filled my heart with fear. I felt like the boot-boy summoned to perform before the gentry, and my fingers trembled as I began to play. However, the music was easy enough and I managed to acquit myself with a certain brio. I also ventured to play some of the more tuneful Chopin waltzes, which were well received. Altogether the concert was a success, and I was commanded to play again on the following evening. It must be remembered that in those days gramophones were rare - certainly nobody at Oxney’s possessed one - so that enjoyment of music was dependent on amateur talent. […]
That I should be in a position to entertain the important members of my house was flattering to my self-esteem, but I felt it would be unwise to expect anything further. If my talent, like that of “Orpheus with his lute,” had brought about a temporary unfreezing of the mountain-tops, it would be a mistake in any way to presume on this agreeable state of thaw. However, even if it led to no more favour than an occasional nod of recognition, it would be enough.
I refrained from telling O’Sullivan and MacBean or any of the Lower boys about these concerts, thinking that they might be irritated - indeed, I had not disclosed to anyone except Mrs Elton that I was able to play the piano. My discretion proved a grave error of judgment and led to unforeseen and damaging consequences.
It soon became apparent that there was “something up” between the members of the Library and myself. A friendly nod from Ainslie as we went in to supper was noticed and commented on. Other incidents of a similar nature occurred which seemed to indicate that I enjoyed a greater measure of intimacy with the Upper members of the house than was my due. As I had not explained the true reason for it, it was open to an interpretation of which, in my innocence, I hadn’t the faintest suspicion, and I was at a loss to understand why I was beginning to be greeted with cynical grins and mysterious hints. I had the uneasy sensation of having got myself into an invidious position through no fault of my own. What exactly the position was I was unable to fathom, and I hesitated to seek for an explanation. It came, however, soon enough. O’Sullivan stopped me as I was going into my room and announced that he and MacBean had decided that they would no longer mess with me. In ordinary circumstances I should have welcomed this decision, but now it only served to increase the mysterious sense of guilt that was being thrust upon me.
“Why?” I stammered out.
“Why?” O’Sullivan repeated. “You know perfectly well why. Don’t try that innocent stuff on me.”
He turned his back and walked off down the passage, leaving me crushed under an insinuation of which I had at last realized the import. It seemed the bitterest irony that I should be suspected of a misdemeanour of which I was not only innocent but which was one that filled me with horror. In such a calamity innocence was no consolation. For the moment I could see no way out of the quandary. I could hardly request Ainslie and his friends to adopt a colder attitude towards me in public, nor could I ask Mr Oxney to announce a vindication of my character. Still less did I feel inclined to appeal for assistance or advice to Mrs Elton. I could only hope that eventually the truth would prevail and that it would come to be realized that the favouritism I enjoyed rested on purely aesthetic grounds.
This is what in fact happened. The existence of the evening concerts in the dining-room was verified, and the vigilance exercised by O’Sullivan and others having failed to detect any irregularities of conduct, my reputation was restored.
After discussing the involvement of Eton boys with the tarts of nearby Windsor:
Evidences of the form of vice more usually associated with public schools were not lacking, and I feel that I should not be doing my duty with regard to the truthfulness of my chronicle were I to pass over the subject in silence.
It is a subject that has been handled by the most highly esteemed authors of all times, from Moses to Proust, and sometimes, I may say, not without a certain degree of hypocrisy. You may recollect the words of Gibbon in the eighth volume of the Decline and Fall: “I touch with reluctance and despatch with impatience a more odious vice of which modesty rejects the name and nature the idea.” After which the historian goes on to say: “A curious dissertation might be formed on the introduction of paederasty after the time of Homer, its progress among the Greeks of Asia and Europe, the vehemence of their passions and the thin device of virtue and friendship which amused the philosophers of Athens.” From which it would appear that Gibbon did not find the subject as unpalatable as he would have liked his readers to think he did.
There can be no denying that in the Eton of my time a good deal of this sort of thing went on, but to speak of it as homosexuality would be unduly ponderous. It was merely the ebullition of puberty. It is of course advisable that these juvenile aberrations should be discouraged, just as are the other excesses of drinking, smoking and gambling. But they are not much more dangerous, and parents who have been distressed by reports of public school immorality may be reassured. Boys who are genuinely homosexual will go on being homosexual whether they have been to a public school or not, and their pathological peculiarities will have to be dealt with by psychoanalysts or, if they are unlucky, by the police, while those who are sexually normal will soon abandon this kind of nonsense for the real thing. I can only say that, in all the cases of which I have been able to check up on the subsequent history, no irretrievable harm seems to have been done. Some of the most depraved of the boys I knew at Eton have grown up into respectable fathers of families, and one of them who, in my day, was a byword for scandal has since become a highly revered dignitary of the Church of England.
Chapter IX. Wagner and Deniston
A year later, in the Summer Half (term) of 1898:
[…]at this point there entered into my life two new factors to raise once more my flagging spirits; one of them was Wagner, the other a boy called Deniston.
Deniston was about sixteen years of age, my senior by a few months but lower in the school. He was in everything the exact antithesis to Marston. He was extremely good-looking and neatly built, and he obviously took a good deal of trouble about his clothes. Although it was not easy to achieve much distinction with the commonplace ingredients of Eton coats, collars and black ties, he contrived to look as smartly dressed as the most gorgeous member of “Pop.” His light-brown hair was always carefully brushed and shone with brilliantine. He had a natural elegance, and even with all the mud of the football field on him he never looked anything but gracefully romantic. A bronzed complexion gave him the appearance of a sophisticated edition of Walt Whitman’s “tan-faced prairie boy,” and a slight cast in one of his grey eyes and a crooked smile added a curious attraction to the classical perfection of his face. His voice, which was low and husky, was more indicative of his character than his rather too soigné exterior. If all this had been accompanied by a brilliant intelligence it would have been altogether too much of a good thing. Luckily it was not. However, he was far from being a stupid boy. He had a certain amount of natural shrewdness and he possessed both sense and sensibility, added to which was a nonchalant charm of manner exercised with an apparent indifference as to whether he charmed or not. In spite of the cast and the crooked smile, he had an air of singular candour, of an almost childish innocence. Yet his reputation was by no means as spotless as his collars and his cuffs, and he was the object of a good deal of scandalous gossip.
Marston, notwithstanding his conversational lewdness, was at heart a rigid puritan, and he was wont to express in no moderate terms his distaste for “that sort of thing” and for Deniston and his friends. It was partly for this reason, and because Deniston moved in rather exalted circles, that although I had been attracted by his appearance I had made no attempt to seek his acquaintance.
That Summer Half, Deniston sat immediately opposite to me in Chapel and I was able to study him without appearing unduly to stare. He certainly was remarkably good-looking. His face stood out from the row of less distinguished physiognomies like the one good picture in a mediocre art gallery. I noticed that he attracted other glances than my own, and of this I fancied he was not unaware, for he affected the slightly self-conscious indifference of those who know themselves to be the “cynosure of neighbouring eyes.”
One Sunday coming out of Chapel we found ourselves side by side amongst the throng of boys in the doorway. Deniston turned to me and said, “Come for a walk?” I was taken aback by the unexpectedness of the invitation and for a moment I could only stare at him in amazement. However, my acquiescence seemed to be taken for granted.
We walked through the Cloisters in the direction of the playing fields. At first the conversation was inclined to drag. “I hope you’re going to be amusing,” Deniston said to me. “I’ve heard that you are.”
“Do you like being amused?” I asked. “I find that so few people do, and it’s a little discouraging.”
“You’re a friend of that chap Marston, aren’t you?”
“Not so much as I used to be. In fact, I see very little of him nowadays.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” said Deniston. “He really looks too awful. One couldn’t be seen about with him.”
After a moment’s silence he added, “I’m told he’s very clever and amusing. It’s a pity he looks like that. That’s the trouble with so many fellows of that type.” There was a touch of wistfulness in his voice. It was a pity, I thought, that if he had a yearning for higher things it should be curbed by a too fastidious regard for appearances.
We passed over Sheep’s Bridge and sat down on the river-bank.
“You’re very unpopular in your house, aren’t you?” Deniston suddenly asked me. I was a little disconcerted at his being in possession of this damaging information.
“They’re a ghastly lot, the fellows at Oxney’s,” he went on, “and perhaps it’s rather to your credit that you should be unpopular. However, there was one fellow there whom I liked quite a lot. A fellow called Faulkner. He was sacked.”
Faulkner, whom I have already mentioned, had been one of the athletic stars of the house and his expulsion had come as a shock to everyone. I remembered vaguely having heard that Deniston had been among those concerned in the affair that had led to his downfall.
“Was it he who told you that I was unpopular?” I asked.
“No. But he said that you played the piano very well. I like music myself, though I don’t know very much about it. I went to a Wagner opera when we were in Germany in the holidays. It was a bit long, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. Jolly scenery there was, too. Can you play Wagner?”
“No. I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Well, you’d better learn some and you can play it to me.”
As we walked back through the playing fields I enquired of Deniston why, in that surprising fashion, he had asked me to go for a walk with him.
I really don’t know,” he replied. “I never think very much about what I do. I always do things on the spur of the moment. It often gets one into trouble, but one has a better time.”
As I sat alone in my room that evening, I pondered over this strange and rather delightful encounter. I wondered what sort of impression I had made, whether I had given satisfaction and whether the conversation by the river had laid the foundation of a new friendship, or whether the next time I met Deniston in the company of some of his grand friends I should be cut. I wondered if he were really as wicked as he was reputed to be. Envy or excess of piety is apt to lead schoolboys to be a little too eager to think the worst of one another. At the same time, I thought, I shouldn’t wish him to be entirely innocent, a mere victim of slander. Vice, if practised by persons of prepossessing appearance, and not too flagrantly, has for most of us a certain charm. And Deniston’s appearance and personality were attractive enough to excuse a good deal. […]
I was anxious to know more about Deniston, his antecedents, his home life, and I made tactful enquiries of such of my friends as I thought might be informed on the subject. I learned that his mother was a well-known “Society beauty,” a very fashionable lady, and that she was in the Prince of Wales’s set. It was even hinted - well, it appeared that her son, if his morals were not all they should have been, might perhaps be excused on hereditary grounds.
The following Sunday, Tyrwhitt’s “elegant” father, “so distinguished-looking” came to visit him at the school …
As I was showing him round the Schools I noticed Deniston in the distance, standing near the entrance to the school yard. Since our encounter on the previous Sunday I had not seen him again. He had been absent from his customary place in Chapel, and I had been disturbed by the thought that he might possibly have gone too far and been sacked. However, it seemed more probable that he was merely ill. I knew that, until I saw him again, I should be in a state of suspense. It was like waiting for the result of an exam. Had I been passed or ploughed? Also, a great deal would depend on the circumstances in which our next meeting took place. Supposing he were to see me in the company of someone he considered undesirable! Now I was confident that the circumstances could not have been more auspicious. Attaching, as he appeared to do, so much importance to appearances, he could not fail to be favourably impressed by my father. I skilfully steered my father towards where Deniston was standing, and he came forward and greeted us with a smile. I introduced him, and after a brief, cordial conversation my father and I moved on. Deniston called after me, “Wait for me after Chapel tomorrow.”
“Who was that boy?” my father enquired.
“His name is Deniston. Perhaps you know his mother. She’s a famous beauty, I’m told.”
“Deniston,” my father repeated. “It must be Kitty Deniston’s son. There’s a likeness.”
“She’s a friend of the Prince of Wales,” I added. My father laughed. “So that bit of scandal has reached Eton.”
Chapter X. Illness
[…] As for Deniston, the walk we took together on Sunday had the effect of confirming the friendship, and we were now seeing as much of one another as was possible for boys in different houses. Whenever he was not playing cricket, which he did a little too often from my point of view, we used to go for walks, bathe together or entertain each other in sock-shops. Nearly every evening we attended Lock-up Parade, a ceremony that consisted in walking up and down the High Street just before Lockup, shouting “Good night” at all the boys one knew.
Some of the remaining story of Tyrwhitt’s friendship with Deniston, which dominated his last year and a half at Eton is omitted here, because, although romantic, Tyrwhitt never quite mentioned sexual attraction or love. Included about it here are a further reference to Faulkner and all that sheds light on attitudes to sexually-suspect friendships.
The prevailing atmosphere at Oxney’s was inclined to be puritanical, and my friendship with Deniston was regarded as an additional bad mark against me. An anonymous letter, in which I recognized the clumsily disguised handwriting of O’Sullivan, informed me that if I continued to be seen going about with Deniston, Mr Oxney’s attention would be drawn to the matter, and I found one day that, during my absence from my room, Deniston’s photograph, which had adorned my mantelpiece, had been torn up and thrown into the grate. This determined me still further to flaunt him in the face of the enemy. Obtaining Mrs Elton’s permission, I invited him to tea with me in my room. I knew that, for all his languid airs and exquisite clothes, he was fairly handy with his fists and would have no difficulty in dealing with any manifestation of hostility that might occur. Indeed, I rather hoped for an incident, but nothing happened beyond my getting black looks from a group of boys in the doorway as we entered the house together.
On the following day Mr Oxney called me into his study and spoke to me of the danger of making undesirable friendships. I reported the matter to Deniston, and the next time he saw O’Sullivan in the street he went up to him and knocked his hat off. The incident was witnessed by two or three members of “Pop,” who laughed and cheered, thus completing O’Sullivan’s humiliation.
Later, Tyrwhitt fell severely ill with fever and, after a week, and was moved by his mother to “cooler and more spacious rooms in Windsor”. He was miserably disappointed that Deniston did not come to visit him there. One day, he was visited by two slight friends called Delmer and Wilson:
Wilson […] went to the window and looked out.
“Oh, lord,” he exclaimed. “There’s Deniston.”
“Deniston?” I cried excitedly. Only my extreme feebleness prevented me from jumping out of bed and rushing to the window. At the same time, I thought that it was unfortunate that he should have chosen to come and see me just when Delmer and Wilson were there.
“He’s gone into the house opposite,” said Wilson, turning from the window.
“You might call to him,” I said, “and tell him it’s this house.”
“I’ll be damned if I do,” Wilson replied ungraciously. “And if he’s coming in here we may as well be off.”
Delmer went to the window in his turn.
“He doesn’t appear to be in a hurry,” he said. “He seems to have settled down over the way. Hes looking out of the window.”
I was still convinced that Deniston was looking for me and that he was making enquiries of the occupant of the house opposite as to where I was to be found.
“There’s somebody with him,” Delmer went on. “It’s that chap Faulkner who used to be in your house.”
“He was sacked,” said Wilson. “I don’t think, if I’d been sacked, I should care to come back here.”
“I expect they’re up to no good,” said Delmer, glancing maliciously at me through his spectacles.
By this time I was in such a state of nervous exasperation that I felt like screaming at my two visitors to take themselves off. That Deniston’s visit to Windsor had not been on my account was disturbing enough. Still more so was the fact that his movements should be watched by Delmer and Wilson, and that they should also be the witnesses of my discomfiture.
“I don’t know why you should imagine they’re up to no good,” I said to Delmer. “It’s not very likely there’d be a brothel or a gambling hell in a street like this.”
“It’s just the sort of street where there would be,” Delmer replied. “However, neither of those establishments is absolutely necessary for your friend Deniston to misbehave himself in.”
Luckily, at this point the nurse came into the room and said that she thought my visitors had been with me quite long enough. As they left, Wilson, who was the kinder-hearted of the two, suggested going across the street and fetching Deniston for me. I begged him to do nothing of the sort.
After they had left I succeeded in working myself up into such a state of agitation that I lay awake most of the night. Fate, I thought, could hardly have devised a more malevolent series of coincidences with which to torture my imagination. I knew, of course, that Deniston had been a great friend of Faulkner’s, and it was only natural that he should visit him when he was staying in Windsor. But the fact that Faulkner had been sacked seemed, in my fevered mind, to invest the matter with a somewhat sinister aspect. On the following morning I made enquiries about the house over the way and learned that it was a perfectly respectable private hotel. Later in the day I saw Faulkner leaving with a suitcase, and, although I watched continuously, Deniston did not reappear.
 He says he was sent there in an April when he was nine.
 “A red-headed freckled boy a year or two older” had approached Tyrwhitt. “He was a distant relation, and he informed me that he had been deputed by his parents to look after me. He did not seem a particularly attractive youth, nor was he a very prominent member of the school. I was only moderately grateful for his patronage, and, much as I had need of them, I made no attempt to avail myself of his proffered services.”
 Apparently his first “Winter Term”, so presumably in December 1893, when Tyrwhitt was ten. “Winter” must mean the last term of the calendar year, since he calls the term after that “Easter”, and the one beginning in April as “Summer.”
 Tyrwhitt believed his father had little interest in him.
 “Lady Bourchier” is the pseudonym he uses for Lady Berners, his grim paternal grandmother, who was alleged to have once been not quite so fun-hating before conversion in her youth to low-church evangelism.
 “Mr. Gambril”, whose real name was Arthur Sydney Tabor, was the ferocious headmaster.
 The Longworth hitherto referred to, designated Major because he had a younger brother in the school.
 Havelock Ellis wrote the first medical textbook on homosexuality in English in 1897.
 G. A. Henty was mentioned earlier by Tyrwhitt as the books most popular among the boys at Cheam, historical adventure stories with similar boy-heros.
 “Oxney”, really called A. A. Somerville, was Tyrwhitt’s housemaster.
 Tyrwhitt’s two messmates, whom he had come to dislike.
 The “dame” (matron) in charge of the domestic affairs of the boys’ side of an Eton house.
 “Pop” was an immensely prestigious self-elected oligarchy of boys who acted as the unofficial school prefects.
 This is surely highly suggestive of a Greek love scandal. The contemporary euphemism that a boy had been expelled “for the usual reason”, when buggery was meant, suggests much about why any boy was expelled for unknown reasons. To this may be added his association with Deniston, whom Tyrwhitt goes on to say had a reputation for vice and loose morals. Perhaps most of all there is the extraordinary age gap between Deniston, only a few months older than Tyrwhitt, and Faulkner, who, as his fag-master, would have been around four years older. As already seen in Chapter VI, the slightest friendliness between boys of such different ages was liable to immediate sexual suspicion; between boys in different houses, it was even more so.
 The loose living and mistresses of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, were well-known in high society.
 Tyrwhitt says “soon afterwards”, but somehow a year has elapsed since his friendship with Deniston began, as it is clear from both his mother’s diary (entries of 6-20 July, Berners Archive, British Library mss.) and subsequent events that the July in question was that of 1899.
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