[In the following passage from the author's Eton in the Forties by an Old Colleger (1898), Coleridge defends the older, easy-going approach to education he experienced during his "eight years at Eton" beginning with praise for all his teachers and his headmaster, Dr. HawkseyGPL].

Less minute and precise in scholarship he was than some of our day; but many of these appear to me, in analyzing the parts, to have lost enjoyment of the whole. Indeed, the generation to which our then chief and my own father belonged, as well as some of my own generation, did, I feel sure, enjoy their classics more than our juniors do.

Of this Headmaster's teaching and influence over his division I have always thought highly. The willing and intelligent boys gained much, learnt to take wider views of things, heard illustrations from many a language and literature. It is true there was not much driving of the laggards in that form; the aim was rather to lead the van than to bring up the rear. 'Somebody must be last' was the consolatory remark with which our Head used to meet a somewhat derisive titter of ours at the last name read out in the examination list. I have no doubt he wittingly gave up the forcing principle, thinking it did not become the Headmaster of a great school to be like one of Pharaoh's taskmasters. Thus it happened that triflers could and did trifle. Indeed, not only in the Doctor's division, but throughout much of the school, there was more freedom and more chance of shirking work than is now the case either there or elsewhere. A minimum was required, but a minimum easy to get through somehow; and boys were left more to themselves.[ 451 /452] ]

Perhaps less work, on the whole, was got out of them (though of this I am not sure as regards Eton of late years and Eton then); and for some boys the system had disadvantages. But there are counterbalancing disadvantages in the high-pressure system, where every corner of a boy's time is filled up, and he is never, even out of school hours, otherwise than superintended, lectured, and directed. Such was not our Eton system; such, indeed, is still not the Public-School system as compared with private schools; but it may tend more and more to become so, as new studies rise up and popular clamour demands that each and all shall have a place in the Public-School curriculum. [452]

Related Material


Coleridge, Arthur Duke. Eton in the Forties by an Old Colleger. 2nd ed., rev. London: Richard Bentley, 1898.

Last modified 19 July 2006