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three pairs of lovers with space


 is the title of a curious and evidently extremely rare[1] book of only fourteen pages that, according to its title page was published in Oxford in 1880.

It opens with the quotation of three lines from a poem in William Hurrell Mallock’s The New Republic (London, 1877), which mocked prominent men at Oxford University for their aestheticism and Hellenism, movements to which Oscar Wilde, then a student at Oxford who had just written a lost poem called The Choirboy, was also drawn. This is the full version of the poem:

Three visions in the watches of one night
Made sweet my sleep almost too sweet to tell.
One was Narcissus by a woodside well
And on the moss his limbs and feet were white;
And one, Queen Venus, blown for my delight
Across the blue sea in a rosy shell;
And one, a lean Aquinas in his cell.
Kneeling, his pen in hand, with aching sight
Strained towards a carven Christ; and of these three
I knew not which was fairest. First I turned
Towards that soft boy, who laughed and fled from me
Towards Venus then; and she smiled once, and she
Fled also. Then with teeming heart I yearned,
O Angel of the Schools, towards Christ with thee!

The High Street, Oxford, 1895

The ensuing book gives a remarkable portrait of life in Oxford for the sort of young men, like Oscar Wilde, who were students and attracted to boys in that era when a Hellenically-inspired reverential passion for them was more in vogue there than ever.

The title page is silent as to the book’s authorship. The copy of it that has been scanned for Google Books is that held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut, where its catalogue number is Olin LF 529.H88 1880a. This copy has “[Hutchinson, Charles Edward]” written in ink above the title, and Google Books accepts this attribution, as have the few scholarly books that mention it (though without providing evidence).[2]

Much more revealing, however, is a far longer note in ink in 19th-century handwriting on two blank pages at the end of the book. This links the book to a major pederastic scandal involving university students and choirboys which broke out in 1884 and has hitherto been lost to history. The note reads:

Boy Worship was by C. E. Hutchinson of B.N.C.: it was originally ascribed to Prower of B.N.C. [one illegible word follows]

C. P. Shipton of St. Edmund Hall tells me tonight that in the Summer Term of 1884 G. C. Chambres of Ch. Ch. printed 12 copies of a letter, of which he sent out a few copies to Heads of Houses concerned, about the dealings of certain University men with boys of the College Choirs: he seems to have requested enquiries into certain alleged facts. These enquiries took place and as a consequence the following among others were either sent down or removed: - Forty of Balliol, Bate of Exeter, Perry of Ch. Ch., the Rev. Huth Walters (now editor of John Bull) who was also apparently turned out of his position as chaplain at Hatfield House as an indirect consequence. Others implicated but unpunished were G. C. Fletcher of B.N.C. and N. Prower of B.N.C.. A Keble man was also sent down who had to do with members of the New College Choir.

F. Madan
June 21 1885

Thanks to the comprehensive Alumni Oxoniensis: The Members of the University of Oxford 1715-1886[3], all but one of those named can be identified with certainty and with enough details to make it easy to find further biographical details.

Postcard of Brasenose College, attended by Hutchinson, Prower and Fletcher

 The author of the note

Much the best-known of all the individuals named was the author of the note, Falconer Madan (1851-1935). A graduate of Brasenose College, he was then Sub-Librarian of the Bodleian Library. The account of his life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes his “grasp of minute scholarly detail”. One can thus be fairly sure that the note is not mere gossip. It may well be because of his position that C. P. Shipton gave him the information, so that he could record it for posterity in whatever copies he had of the book.

The author of Boy-Worship

The following details are given for the only “C. E. Hutchinson of B.N.C.” in the Alumni Oxoniensis “Hutchinson, Charles Edward, 1s. Charles Henry, of West Dean, Sussex, cler. Brasenose Coll., matric. 27 Nov., 1873, aged 19; B.A. & M.A. 1880.”

In his biography of Charles Dodgson, the writer famous both as the author of Alice in Wonderland and for his fondness for little girls, Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle, Edward Wakeling says:

In 1882, Dodgson’s friend Charles Edward Hutchinson (1855-1926) of Brasenose College discussed a dream in which he had seen a procession of ‘warriors, saints and sages’ together with a choir singing an original melody. On waking, he wrote out the music of this melody and asked Dodgson to compose some suitable words. The result of this collaboration was ‘Dreamland’ – a typically Victorian hymn-like gloomy tune with sentimental words.[4]

Wakeling does not give his source, but he has at the very least got Hutchinson’s year of death right. Amongst the deaths announced in The Times on 24 June 1926 was “On the 21st June, at Montreux, the Rev. Charles Edward Hutchinson, M.A., eldest son of the late Rev. Charles Henry Hutchinson, of Westdean, Chichester.” Evidently, therefore, he had become a clergyman.

The six named men implicated

Besides the “Keble man […] also sent down who had to do with members of the New College Choir”, Madan recorded the names of six who were implicated in their dealings “with boys of the College Choirs.”

1.  “Fortey, Henry Comber, 1s. Henry, of Bellary, East Indies, arm. Balliol Coll., matric. 17 Oct., 1882, aged 19”, as the Alumni Oxoniensis describes him, was born on 13 July 1863. Soon after his expulsion, he emigrated to New South Wales, where he was married with children to a local woman by 1892, and died on 28 March 1945.[5]

2.  “Bate, Robert Shelton, 4s. Robert, of Bridgwater, Somerset, arm. Exeter Coll., matric. 4 June, 1881, aged 18”, as the Alumni Oxoniensis describes him, was very probably the man of his exact names who had two books published by George Bell of London (the first doubtless boy-stirring stuff): Stories of King Arthur (1907) and The teaching of English literature in secondary schools (1913). One might guess from the latter that he became a teacher, then the obvious profession for an educated boy-worshipper. It is notable that another boy-worshipper, the future Uranian poet Samuel Elsworth Cottam had matriculated a Exeter College the same day as he, and yet another, Edwin Emmanuel Bradford, joined them there four months later. He died in Wells, Somerset on 24 October 1937.[6]

3.  Of the six, only “Perry of Ch. Ch.” cannot be identified since two men with this surname were or at least recently had been at Christ Church. The slightly more likely candidate, on account of his being known to have gone into holy orders like half the others, was the Reverend Clement Raymond Perry (1856-1937), who became a Doctor of Divinity and Rector of Mickfield, Suffolk, married in 1888 and had three children.[7]

4.  “Walters, Edmund Huth, 5s. Gregory Seale, of London, gent. St. Edmund Hall, matric. 22 Oct., 1869, aged 23 ; B.A. 1874, M.A. 1876, chaplain Christ Church 1877-84, domestic chaplain to Marquis of Salisbury 1881-4”, as the Alumni Oxoniensis describes him, was born in June 1846. Clearly the scandal now revealed explains why he lost both his chaplaincies in 1884! The “John Bull” he went on to edit was a popular Sunday newspaper published in London. He died, still a “Reverend”, in London on 22 March 1926.[8]

5.  “Fletcher, Rev. George Charles, 3s. Henry Mordaunt, of Ferry Hill, Wilts, cler. Brasenose Coll., matric. 21 Oct., 1878, aged 18; scholar 1878, B.A. 1882. M.A. 1886”, as the Alumni Oxoniensis describes him, was born on 17 Oct. 1859[9] and died at Wymondham, Norfolk on 8 Jan. 1949.[10]

6.  "Prower, Nelson, 2s. James Elton Mervyn, of London, arm. Brasenose Coll., matric. 20 May, 1875, aged 18; B.A. 1878, M.A. 1882. See Rugby School Reg”, the Alumni Oxoniensis describes him, was born on 2 July 1856. It is a mystery why Boy-Worship was “originally ascribed” to him, but that later, not only was this ascription abandoned, but he was unpunished, even though implicated in the choirboy scandal of 1884. The suspicion arises that he was the villain of the story, that he had indeed been co-author of Boy-Worship, and was let off the hook in return for betraying his fellow-students.

Boys at an ice-cream stall

Considerable, thoroughly-researched biographical details are to be found in an online article about him by Sally Davis, but she had not found a copy of Boy-Worship to read and made typically 21st-century false assumptions about the usual character of pre-20th century homosexuality, imagining “it was a ‘how-to’ book for the seduction of fellow students” rather than a paean to the attraction of boys for men. The following is only a brief summary of her information about Prower, concentrating on the points with a possible relevance to Greek love.
     Prower became active as a freemason, a Catholic, and, most idiosyncratically, a prominent member of the secret magical society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He taught at a boys’ boarding school. He was one of the three contributors to Various Verses (London: Hayman Christy Lilly, 1909), but his only poem in it with a title resonant of Greek love was “Non Angli Sed Angeli”, the words (meaning “not English, but angels”) spoken by the future Pope Gregory the Great when he beheld two beautiful English boys in the slave-market in Rome, determining him one day to send missionaries to convert the English to Christianity (as he did in 597).
     Prower also wrote two novels, Reggie Abbott or the Adventures of a Swedish Officer (London: George Redway 1890), and Freddy Barton's Schooldays (London: John Ouseley Ltd., 1911), which he described in the preface as “a study of conditions of life in a private school”, including “the abuses that disfigure the prefect system.”
     In 1909, he married a widow, with whom he emigrated to Canada, dying in Vancouver in October 1943.


The author of Boy-Worship and the men implicated in the choirboy scandal were all similar in background. All but one were undergraduates or post-graduates at Oxford, in their twenties, the only exception being the 38-year-old chaplain. All were upper-class,[11] as Oxford students generally then were. Half became clergymen, which is significant when one remembers that theirs was also the the Oxford of the Oxford Movement, and of an aestheticised, romanticised kind of Christianity. If one wants a credible fictional portrayal of the sort of men these probably were or soon became, rich insight is offered by John Gambril Nicholson’s Romance of the Choirboy (1916), whose main protagonist and his friends are boy-attracted clergymen of the slightly-later Edwardian decade.

[1] Note, for example, that the British Library has no copy.

[2] For example, Michael Matthew Kaylor, Secreted Desires. The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde (Brno: Masaryk University, 2006) p. xvii.

[3] Edited by Joseph Foster and published in four volumes by Parker and Co., Oxford, 1888-92.

[4] Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle (London: Tauris, 2015) p. 201.

[5] Sydney Morning Herald 3 April 1945.

[6] Probate Calendar for England and Wales, 1938.

[7] The Marquis of Ruvigny and Ranieval, The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal: The Mortimer-Percy Volume (London, 1911) p. 123.

[8] Probate Calendar for England and Wales, 1926.

[9] A. Mackenzie, History of the Munros of Fowlis (1898) p. 331.

[10] Probate Calendar for England and Wales, 1949.

[11] Foster, the editor of the Alumni Oxoniensis, was a prominent genealogist and was fastidious about this, using the term “gentleman” for those strictly qualified for it in terms of social class. Those not described as sons of “gentlemen” were described by him as sons of “clergymen” or “armigers”, these being two distinct categories eligible to be considered true “gentlemen”.




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