Primary Sources

(1) In his autobiography, Fate Has Been Kind, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence described his time at Eton College.

I was in some ways more childish, and in some ways more grown-up, than my schoolmates. Completely ignorant as I was of their world, I was shocked at the language used by the boys. Their devices to shirk work and deceive the masters seemed to me silly and immoral. Though I remember having a fight with a boy soon after I got there, in general I failed to stand up for myself, and therefore could be bullied with impunity. I was frankly bored with the way the classics were taught, and I found myself in agreement with a remark, made by one of the boys, that hard work was systematically discouraged at Eton.

Latin and Greek occupied most of our time and I found them deadly dull. No doubt at that age my mind was most sterile soil in which to implant the seeds of literature. But I cannot help thinking that the worst method was adopted of arousing our interest. If we were doing a Greek play, for instance, we got through some 20 lines only in each lesson; and all the stress was placed on our knowing the cases of the nouns and tenses of the verbs. At this rate we scarcely ever completed the play before the end of the 'half'. Even the literal meaning of the sentences generally escaped me, and of the tremendous human issues of the drama I never had the foggiest notion. I suspect that only a tiny minority of my class-mates would have a different tale to tell.

On March 18 (1891) the new Lower Schools were opened and a statute of Queen Victoria was unveiled by the Empress Frederick. The Queen herself also came in person to the ceremony. The captain of the school was given an address to present to the Queen, and I had one to present to the Empress.

Another illustrious visitor to whom I was presented was the Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone. He came to Eton to lecture on Homer, a relaxation-subject in which he took great interest, though his views on it were considered by the orthodox to be unsound. The headmaster invited me to dine with him and I remember, talked a great deal throughout the meal about the merits of sliding seats in the school boats. He was already in advanced years and was evidently rather deaf, as he occasionally made asides to his wife in audible tones which we were not intended to overhear. But his eye was still keen and his face bespoke a personality accustomed to make decisions and to be obeyed.

(2) George Orwell, The Observer (1st August, 1948)

Whatever may happen to the great public schools when our educational system is reorganized, it is almost impossible that Eton should survive in anything like its present form, because the training it offers was originally intended for a landowning aristocracy and had become an anachronism long before 1939.

It also has one great virtue and that is a tolerant and civilized atmosphere which gives each boy a fair chance of developing his own individuality. The reason is perhaps that, being a very rich school, it can afford a large staff, which means that the masters are not overworked.