Ode on a Retrospect of Eton College.

James Kenneth Stephen.

Ye bigot spires, ye Tory towers,
 That crown the watery lea,
Where grateful science still adores
 The aristocracy:
A happy usher once I strayed
Beneath your lofty elm trees’ shade,
 With mind untouched by guilt or woe:
But mad ambition made me stray
Beyond the round of work and play
 Wherein we ought to go.

My office was to teach the young
 Idea how to shoot:
But, ah! I joined with eager tongue
 Political dispute:
I ventured humbly to suggest
That all things were not for the best
 Among the Irish peasantry:
And finding all the world abuse
My simple unpretending views,
 I thought I’d go and see.

I boldly left the College bounds:
 Across the sea I went,
To probe the economic grounds
 Of Irish discontent.
My constant goings to and fro
Excited some alarm; and so
 Policemen girded up their loins,
And, from his innocent pursuits,—
Morose unsympathetic brutes,—
 They snatched a fearful Joynes.

Escaped, I speedily returned
 To teach the boys again:
But ah, my spirit inly burned
 To think on Ireland’s pain.
Such wrongs must out: and then, you see,
My own adventures might not be
 Uninteresting to my friends:
I therefore ventured to prepare
A little book, designed with care,
 To serve these humble ends.

Our stern head-master spoke to me
 Severely—‘You appear
(Horresco referens) to be
 A party pamphleteer.
If you must write, let Cæsar’s page
Or Virgil’s poetry engage
 Your all too numerous leisure hours:
But now annihilate and quash
Impious philanthropic bosh:
 Or quit these antique towers.’

It seems that he who dares to write
 Is all unfit to teach:
And literary fame is quite
 Beyond an usher’s reach.
I dared imprisonment in vain:
The little bantling of my brain
 I am compelled to sacrifice.
The moral, after all, is this:—
That here, where ignorance is bliss,
 ’Tis folly to be wise.
This Ode was put into the mouth of an Eton master named Joynes. Being a Liberal with Nationalist sympathies, he visited a disturbed district in the North of Ireland (presumably in the summer of 1882), and contrived to get himself arrested, and imprisoned for a short time. He then wrote a book or pamphlet on the subject, with the result indicated in the verses, which seem to point to his having withdrawn his work rather than resign his appointment. Mr. Joynes still held his mastership when the Retrospect was published in November, 1882, and the popularity of the piece at Eton was prodigious, especially the admirable line, ‘They snatched a fearful Joynes.’