by John McGivering)
|notes on the text|
So Eton may keep her prime ministers,A 'sub', in this context, is a Subaltern – a junior officer in the army, many of whom appear in Kipling’s stories. 'the line' here means the infantry regiments in the British army. This verse goes (more or less) to the tune of “The Eton Boating-Song.” Eton College, near Windsor, one of the leading English public schools, was founded by King Henry VI in 1440, Rugby School, Warwickshire, by Lawrence Sheriff in 1567. USC opened its doors in the Autumn term of 1874.
And Rugby her preachers so fine
I’ll follow my father before me,
And go for a sub of the line
And pass for a sub of the line.
The college was started about the year 1872 on a sort of co-operative principle by a lot of old Admirals and Generals who found themselves like most retired service-men unable, even in these days, to pay the high costs of public school education... The founders of the college bought a long terrace of houses at the foot of the high ground facing the sea. These were adapted to form dormitories, classrooms and quarters for the masters.Stalky & Co.
A more odious picture of school life can seldom have been drawn. With the exception of the headmaster and the chaplain the masters are represented as savage, brutal, narrow-minded and incompetent. The boys, supposedly the sons of gentlemen, were devoid of any decent instincts ... The three of them exercised their humour in practical jokes of a singular nastiness.A similar lack of humour is shown by George Sampson (see Isabel Quigly’ s Introduction above) quoted by Charles Carrington (p. 30). Samson calls it: 'an unpleasant book about unpleasant boys in an unpleasant school.'
'...tracts or parables on the education of the young. These … turned themselves into a series of tales called Stalky & Co ... On their appearance they were regarded as irreverent, not true to life, and rather ‘brutal.’ (Something of Myself, pp.134-5.)Dr Tompkins, a formidable teacher in her own right, puts her finger on it – as always – when, speaking of the whole series of the 'Stalky' stories, she says (p. 242):
The boys that swarm through the page act and speak with complete credibility ... The whole lively, grubby, community is there, with the masters irritated, supercilious, mutually intolerant, yet possessed by that unreasonable ‘caring’ of the teacher for the pupil as the recipient of his ministration, and occasionally by his need of reassurance that all his effort has not been wasted, that ‘something sticks’, as King says ‘even among the barbarians.’ This is done to the life.Another writer who has seen the point – as many have not – is Jad Adams, whose Kipling appeared in 2005, published by Haus Books, who says of Stalky & Co. (page 19):
The stories have more literary than biographical relevance and belong to a prolific stage in Kipling’s writing career …. but it is relevant that throughout the stories … runs a conscious perception that the tricks, japes, adventures and feats of daring in which the boys take part have a real and specific relevance to the outside world.What is clear is that Kipling's perceptions of the values and atmosphere of United Services College, as described in "An English School", are faithfully carried through into Stalky & Co., some six years later.