Stalky & Co.

Some notes on the characters


(by Roger Lancelyn Green, 1961)

The danger of having a real school as the background of Stalky & Co. is that we find it almost impossible not to assume that the characters were real people also – and their behaviour and adventures more or less true to life.

In dealing with a work of fiction – and it must be stressed that Stalky & Co. is not, nor was ever intended to be, more than that – it is only safe to talk about “originals” if we distinctly understand how the writer of fiction uses them. Usually some salient feature is taken and developed to suit the situation, often regardless of other features which the real “original” may have possessed. Frequently characteristics are borrowed from a second “original” and grafted on to the first.

Thus Mr. King in Stalky & Co. is generally held to be based on W. C. Crofts – and with good reason. King in “Regulus” must have been very like Crofts – or rather, like the essence of Crofts distilled with genius, with the perspective of more than thirty years to colour even Kipling’s recollection of the real man. The first written of the stories, “Slaves of the Lamp”, suggests that to begin with Kipling’s “mixture” for King contained a large percentage of Crofts, but with a certain admixture of Mr. F. W. Haslam (not otherwise represented in Stalky & Co.). Note that, according to Kipling himself (Something of Myself, p. 36) it was Haslam who ‘told me off before my delighted companions in his best style, which was acid and contumelious. He wound up by a few general remarks about dying as a `scurrilous journalist”. Compare “Slaves of the Lamp” (p. 75) : “His wild flowers of speech – King had an unpleasant tongue – restored him to good humour at the last. He drew a lurid picture of Beetle’s latter end as a scurrilous pamphleteer dying in an attic”, and so on.

King once compounded out of these two originals – and out of Kipling’s imagination – developed, but could not be changed, in the later stories. Kipling seems to have thought very kindly of Crofts, and went out of his way to keep up some sort of friendship with him after leaving Westward Ho!: his biographers ask why Kipling then turned round and vilified him in the character of King. . .. “This, I think, covers the situation”.

After which cautionary preamble, we may proceed to the “originals” of the main Stalky & Co. characters, beginning as in duty bound with “THE HEAD”, alias “the Prooshian Bates”.
“Mr. Cormell Price”, wrote Colonel Tapp, “was appointed the first Headmaster. He came from Haileybury College in September, 1874, with a nucleus of less than twelve boys.”

Cormell Price (right), born in 1835, was the eldest son of Samuel Cormell Price of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman. He was educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and afterwards at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 5th July, 1854, aged eighteen, was a scholar from 1854 to 1858, took his B.A. in 1859, his M.A. in 1865, and became a Bachelor of Civil Law in 1867.

At King Edward’s he met Edward Burne Jones who was ever afterwards among his closest friends; they were together at Oxford, forming, with William Morris, R. W. Dixon and several others the group who produced the famous Oxford and Cambridge Magazine of 1856 – to which Price contributed three essays. After taking his degree, he decided to become a doctor, and with this intention in mind moved to London in 1860, where he continued to be a cherished member of the Morris-Jones circle, adding Rossetti and Swinburne to his friends. It was at this time that Rossetti produced one of his famous limericks:

“There is a young Doctor named Crom,
Whom you get very little good from.
If his pockets you jog,
The inside of a dog
Is certain to trickle from Crom.”

Price was utterly unfitted to be a doctor, and temperamentally unsuited for the dissecting room (hence Rossetti’s limerick), and he very soon gave it up, having been offered a private tutorship in Russia. This new venture was not altogether successful, and Price seems to have disliked it intensely: the appointment had been for seven years when he took it in 1860, but in 1864 he was back in England, where he was fortunate enough to obtain a post at Haileybury. It was owing to the Russian episode that the first part of his nickname materialised -“Rooshian” merging into “Prooshian” at an early date: the origin of “Bates” has never been explained: but it was a School nickname, and not Kipling’s invention.

By the time he left Haileybury in 1874, Price was Senior Master of the Modern Side: that he had definitely found his vocation is surely proved by the fact that he was asked then virtually to found the United Services College. Of his conspicuous success during his twenty years as Head at Westward Ho! we need only to read what Kipling, Dunsterville and Colonel Tapp have written to be left without a shadow of doubt. Beresford’s attempt to “debunk” him gives no impression of the truth, and is generally on a par with his character: “Turkey”, recorded Kipling, “lived and loved to dispel illusions” – whether true or false did not seem to matter. Cormell Price retired in July, 1894, being then sixty, and died on 4th May, 1910.

Among Cormell Price’s friends at Birmingham and Oxford, and an important member of the Burne Jones circle, was Harry Macdonald, brother of the four famous sisters who married Edward Burne Jones, Edward Poynter, Alfred Baldwin and Lockwood Kipling. It is obvious why Rudyard Kipling was sent to Westward Ho! even though there was no chance of his being able to enter the army, owing to his defective sight brought on and not attended to during his years in the “House of Desolation” at Southsea described in the story “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”.

After “The Head”, and given far more space in Stalky & Co., comes MR. KING. As already shown, he owes something to another Master, F. W. Haslam. But his chief “original” was the House Master, W. C. Crofts. William Carr Crofts, eldest son of William Crofts of Hampstead, matriculated at Merton College, Oxford, on 15th October, 1864, aged eighteen. The following year he won a scholarship at Brasenose, where he took his B.A. in 1868; his M.A. was conferred upon him in 1873. He was twice a winner of the Diamond Sculls at Henley, “a rowing man of splendid physique, and a scholar who lived in secret hope of translating Theocritus worthily”, wrote Kipling. “He had a violent temper, no disadvantage in handling boys used to direct speech, and a gift of schoolmaster’s `sarcasm’ which must have been a great relief to him and was certainly a treasure-trove to me. Also he was a good and house-proud House-master.” He was drowned at sea, off the coast of Sark, in 1912. Why Kipling so stressed the fact that Mr. King was a “Balliol man”, is a mystery. It is true of neither Crofts nor Haslam.

MR. PROUT, the next House-master was drawn from M. H. Pugh. He was, according to Dunsterville, “a great, strong, `hefty’ fellow with very large feet and a very kind heart. He would have been a very good house-master if he had not made the mistake of prowling and prying, which all boys resent and which made it extremely easy for us to entrap him”. His school nickname was “Heffy” : Beresford gives a whole chapter to him, making a completely unbelievable caricature. “My House-master”, wrote Kipling, “was deeply conscientious and cumbered about with many cares for his charges. What he accomplished thereby I know not. His errors sprang from pure and excessive goodness. Me and my companions he always darkly and deeply suspected. Realising this, we little beasts made him sweat, which he did on slight provocation”. Pugh later became a very successful and popular House-master at Cranleigh.

The third House-master in Stalky & Co., HARTOPP, has a very small part, and scarcely emerges from its pages as a real person in the way that King and Prout do. His original was Herbert Arthur Evans, only son of Thomas Evans of Tiddenham, Mon., who matriculated at Balliol in 1866, aged nineteen, took his B.A. four years later and his M.A. in 1872. “Evans”, recorded Dunsterville, “nick-named `Punch’ because of a rather large and curved nose, I best remember as the founder and organiser of the ‘Bug-and-tick’ or `Natural History Society’. His enthusiasm for this Society led him sometimes astray, but he understood us and I do not think any of us could have anything but pleasant recollections of his dealings with us”.

The fourth housemaster, MACREA, is even more nebulous than Hartopp, and we can only suggest that his “original” was the other housemaster at Westward Ho! in Kipling’s time, irrespective of character. This was H. C. Stevens, whom Dunsterville describes as “a parson, a good, sensible fellow, popular with the boys and I should think equally so with the masters”. Neither Kipling nor Beresford mention him in their reminiscences of Westward Ho!

Far more important, and a living character in his own right is “the Padre”, the Revd. JOHN GILLETT (called “CLAY” in “Slaves of the Lamp” on its first appearance in Cosmopolis in April, 1897). He seems to be a fairly accurate portrait of the Reverend George Willes, of Brighton, who matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in December, 1863 at the age of nineteen, was a “servitor” until he took his B.A. in 1867; took his M.A. in 1872 and in 1879 became Chaplain and Assistant Master at Westward Ho! Dunsterville describes him as “a genial, robust type, popular with both masters and boys and possessed of uncommon common sense that enabled him to settle many feuds by friendly arbitration or by kindly hints”.

All these masters (they had, by the way, left Westward Ho! well before Stalky & Co. was published) may be seen in the photograph below.

Standing: (Chaplain), Pugh, Green. On Ground: Evans, Bode
Seated: Stevens, Carr, Price (Head), Osborne, Col. Russell (Sec.), Crofts.

It may also include the prototype of MASON, the only other master mentioned in Stalky & Co. – but no original has been suggested for him: possibly C. W. L. Bode, who came direct from Oxford at the age of twenty-four in 1879 and a little later took holy orders, would fit the part. But it is possible that in “Slaves of the Lamp” Kipling was thinking of Hartopp, who was not always a Housemaster, and did teach him mathematics.

More important than many a master is the School Sergeant, FOXY, in this case definitely modelled on the Sergeant of Kipling’s day, George Schofield. He was born in 1839 (he died in 1907), joined the Army in 1858, the year after the Mutiny, and served for a few years in India in the early ’70’s, spending most of his time as a gymnastic instructor. He retired in 1879 and straightway came to the United Services College, where he continued until his death. His real school nickname was “The Weasel”, and Kipling’s description seems to be perfectly accurate.

The College servants all appear in Stalky & Co. under their own names – John Short the bell-ringer, Richards and Gumbley the house-servants, Oke the common-room butler, and Lena the laundry-maid. To these must be added Sergeant Keyte, who kept the tuck shop, and Gregory (alias “Rabbits’-Eggs”) a local farmer from whom Dunsterville and his companions rented a room for at least one period.

And so to the boys themselves – ARTHUR LIONEL CORKRAN, WILLIAM M‘TURK and “BEETLE”, who has no surname (even Foxy refers to him as “Muster Beetle” – rather a lapse on Kipling’s part), and whose Christian name seems, surprisingly enough, to be Reginald (unless “Reggie” can be accepted as an abbreviation for Rudyard).

From the very beginning Kipling asked the reader to identify him with Beetle: “Slaves of the Lamp”, Part II, is written in the first person, with the other characters, calling the narrator “Beetle”, and this occurs again later in “A Deal in Cotton” and “The Honours of War”. In Something of Myself he makes it plain that he was the original of Beetle and Dunsterville of Stalky : he does not name Beresford, but makes it abundantly clear that the third occupant of the study at Westward Ho! was indeed M‘Turk’s original.

At the end of his life Dunsterville, the last survivor of the three, summed up in this way: after quoting Edward Shanks’s conclusion that “there never were any such schoolboys as Stalky, Turkey and Beetle”, he says:

“There he is wrong, for certainly there were boys of those types in the school at Westward Ho! But the public make a great mistake when they regard this amusing book of pure fiction as being an historical novel. For many years I have endeavoured to impress this on friends and on the general public, both in speaking and in writing, but without success. It is very certain that the majority of the incidents depicted never took place at all as described, but in each case there was a good foundation, and the rest is what I suppose a journalist would call `writing up’. Like all good fiction, however, the impression given is not a false one, for it presents a very fair, if highly coloured, picture of actual events.”
(Kipling Journal, No. 73, April, 1945.)

Seventeen years earlier, in Stalky’s Reminiscences, Dunsterville had written: “Stalky & Co. is a work of fiction, and not a historical record. Stalky himself was never quite so clever as portrayed in the book, and the book makes no mention of the many times when he was let down. But he represents, not an individual-though his character may be based on that of an individual – but the medium of one of the prevailing spirits of this most untypical school”.

Neither Dunsterville nor Beresford describe any adventure which could possibly be accepted as the basis for one of the Stalky stories. They do little more than vouch for the accuracy of the background and some of the character drawing. To be told that the three boys, with three others, really did put on a private production of Aladdin can hardly be accepted as a “basis” for “Slaves of the Lamp”, any more than the fact that they joined the Natural History Society for the sake of an extension of “bounds” can be said to prove “In Ambush” a true experience!
The nearest approach to a real “basis” occurs with “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman”, the story published in 1929: readers of Kipling’s essay “An English School”, published in 1893, will find that one sentence and one paragraph suggest two of the most important incidents in that story, viz., the duel in the Bunkers and the use made of the bacon fat.

There is little point in saying much more here about the lives and careers of Kipling, Dunsterville and Beresford. Dunsterville has left several volumes of very adequate autobiography, and Beresford’s Schooldays with Kipling tell us a good deal more about the third of the trio than he may have intended.

Lionel Charles Dunsterville was born on 9th November, 1865 and was at Westward Ho! from 1875 till 1883, passing into Sandhurst in July of that year. In August 1884 he was gazetted to a commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment, transferred to the Indian Army in 1887, and only retired in 1920, with the rank of Major-General. He died on 18th March, 1946.

George Charles Beresford was born in 1865 and went to Westward Ho! in 1877. When he left in 1882 he joined the Cooper’s Hill Engineering College, whence he went to India in the Public Works Department. Owing to ill health he returned to England after about four years. He became an artist and exhibited in the Royal Academy, is remembered as a photographer (e.g., the portrait of Barrie which forms the frontispiece of Denis Mackail’s The Story of J.M.B. is by him), and was also a very successful antique dealer. He died on 21st February, 1938.

Of Joseph Rudyard Kipling it is only necessary to remind the reader that he was born on 30th December, 1865, went to Westward Ho! in January, 1878 and left in July, 1882. He died on 18th January, 1936. His friendship with Dunsterville continued to the end of his life, but he does not seem to have kept up with Beresford after they left Westward Ho!

Identifications of other boys in the stories have been suggested from time to time, but it only seems safe to say that, judging from the actual cast of Aladdin, “Dick Four” may be equated with Brigadier-General S. M. Edwardes, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., “Pussy” with Major-General J. C. Rimington, CB., C.S.I., and Tertius with Major-General S. H. Powell, C.B. As Rimington’s actual nickname was “Potiphar,” and he was Captain of Football, it is only reasonable to suppose that in Stalky & Co. he “doubles” the parts of “Pussy Abanazar” and “Potiphar Mullins”.

Finally, a certain J. E. Hewett, according to Colonel Tapp (page 53), identified himself with Clewer; and “That Same Infant” is usually held to be General Sir George Roos-Keppel, J.P. – in “The Honours of War”, besides being a J.P., he is actually called “Sir George”. Hogan, killed in the Burma Campaign, must be R. A. T. Drury (mentioned in From Sea to Sea, ll) – and Stettson, whose life the Head saved (a real incident), was probably a day boy named Docker: but the incident occurred after Kipling had left the College. He may, however, have been a day-boy called “Doceker” who was only at the College from May to July, 1879. (There is no “Docker” in the O.U.S.C. Register).