Monday, August 20, 2012

Winchester: A Decadent Hotbed

Anthologies of school verse are best avoided at all cost. Slightly better, perhaps, are those which only admit alumni whose poetic credentials have been honed in the wider world, best of all, an anthology of poetry by the alumni of a school which has been in existence for 500 years and more. Winchester College is one such school, its denizens known as Wykehamists, and this (above) is just such an anthology. Cataloguing it recently I was struck by the number of names I knew. Two of the biggest names in the 1890s canon in particular stood out: Lionel Johnson (pictured from the book below at the age of 14) and Alfred Douglas, Bosie, lover and mauvaise ange of Oscar Wilde. 

The editor of the book, G. H. Blore, had reminiscences of both as schoolboys. "In the eighties Lionel Johnson, the brilliant editor of the Wykehamist, who contributed to its pages poems and articles of lasting value, was to us juniors a figure apart: he walked Chamber Court like an angel visitant, and his toys in "Third" introduced me to Oriental tiles and the art of Burne-Jones. He became a great lover of Ireland, of its beauty and its legends, and the 'Celtic Speech'... Another editor, not of the Wykehamist but of its witty rival, The Pentagram, was Alfred Douglas, against whom I played in the Fifteens, and whom I saw finish an east winner of Steeplechase when it ended at St Cross."

The book also features another poet who has been on the pages of this blog before, Robert Nichols. And then there is Edward Tennant, someone I hadn't heard of before but whom I should like to know more about. Blore says, "I recall 'Bimbo' Tennant as the most cheerful junior in my house, playing his cricket and football with zest, enthusiastic about beauty and a great lover of home. He was barely 17, when at the outbreak of the war he left school and joined the Grenadier Guards; and two years later he was killed."

1 comment:

Self-effacing ghost said...

During his war service Edward Wyndham Tennant (brother of Stephen) was an intimate friend of Osbert Sitwell, who writes of him in Chapter II of Laughter In The Next Room:

"Bimbo was compact of energy as a cracker. To be in his company was like having an electric battery in the room, invigorating without being in the least tiring. Literary expression was as easy to him as talk to other people. He had great verbal ingenuity, and jokes of endless variety, from those concerned with ideas down to puns, poured from him [he quotes one of Tennant's puns, dire and unfunny - guess you had to be there]… But this capacity for fun was equalled by his compassion. Consumed with a raging generosity, brave, spontaneous, quick in word and deed, with the heart of a Christian and with a spirit higher than any I have ever known, he had a love of human beings that knew no division of class. So English in type - though a Scot by origin -, so English by thought, humour, wit, there was yet something almost Russian about his exuberance and the quality of his generosity. I do not mean to indicate a profuse spending of money - though he was, it is true, generous in everything - but a munificence of attitude. If he saw a poor woman of the streets, he would at once feel sorry for her and want to ask her to dinner to meet his girl friends, the 'hell-kittens', as his mother termed them. Indeed, in spite of expostulations, I have known him do it, with a startling - though to me not unpredictable - lack of success. Fellow-guests of each team were outraged. Yet no-one left him ever with a feeling of resentment. In the end, however, his conduct always delighted - though it may have dismayed - his friends: for we belonged to the same epoch, that strongest of all links…"

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