- Dean Farrar and ‘Eric’: A Study of ‘Eric, or Little by Little’, together with the Complete Text of the Book by Ian Anstruther
Haggerston, 237 pp, £19.95, January 2003, ISBN 1 869812 19 0
From the 11th century to the 19th not a single Eric was to be found in England, according to the Harrap Book of Boys’ and Girls’ Names. Then in 1858 the schoolmaster Frederic Farrar, not yet a dean, published that passionately morbid tale Eric, or Little by Little. This was the book which, in the face of much mockery, put the wind up two generations of youth. Parents, seizing the wrong end of the stick, at once saw Eric as the ideal baptismal name, to the ultimate dismay of its recipients. Of Eric Gill, Robert Speaight says that being called Eric ‘might not unfairly be described as starting life with a handicap’. The Great War showed what handicapped Erics were made of; in 1918 my cousin Eric, up from Biggin Hill in a two-seater fighter, overhauled – little by little – a homing Gotha bomber and contributed to its destruction. It is unlikely that more recent Erics – Ambler, Sykes, Shipton, Heffer – oozed shame when signing their names.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 25 No. 10 · 22 May 2003
It appears to be the case that Charles Vaughan, the 19th-century headmaster of Harrow who resigned following an affair with one of the boys when the young John Addington Symonds was also a pupil there, did so not under pressure from the boy’s father, as E.S. Turner states (LRB, 17 April), but from Symonds’s. The boy had told Symonds, producing letters by Vaughan to prove it, and a year later Symonds, by then at Oxford, related the story to John Conington, Professor of Latin, who urged him to make it public. What Symonds did was tell his father, an eminent Bristol surgeon, who confronted Vaughan and demanded his resignation. It was again Symonds senior who, repeating his threat of exposure, made sure that Vaughan rejected the bishopric Palmerston offered him in 1863.
It throws an interesting light on the times that Palmerston knew perfectly well why Vaughan had resigned from Harrow, and so did the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Oxford. (Parallels with the current situation of the Catholic Church in the US and elsewhere are tempting.) On leaving Harrow, Vaughan became vicar of Doncaster and legendary in the Church of England for his seemingly incomprehensible refusal to accept high office. The New Age revivalist Sir George Trevelyan, himself an old Harrovian, was happy to quote Vaughan’s statement, ‘I was afraid of ambition,’ as the explanation.
The story isn’t new, but what is striking is that Conington and Symonds junior were in reality homosexual, yet conspired to expose a third, Vaughan, who had made a high-risk move to evade society’s taboos. John Chandos in Boys Together views Symonds as having been a jealous betrayer, relating the story in high places through envy that Vaughan had selected what J.R. Vincent in his review of Symonds’s memoirs (TLS, 20 July 1984) called ‘the house tart’ for his attentions rather than Symonds himself.
At the same time as Symonds was outing Vaughan to his father, he was himself conducting an intense, though apparently chaste, love affair with a 15-year-old Bristol choirboy, Willie Dyer. In what must for the recipient have been a bizarre conjunction of events, Symonds confessed his infatuation to his father, who ordered him to stop seeing the boy, an injunction Symonds didn’t wholly obey.
Father and son had co-operated over such matters before. Symonds junior had ‘entirely abandoned onanism’ at the age of 15, despite since the age of eight enjoying fantasies of naked sailors sexually abusing him and calling him their ‘dirty pig’. Symonds senior subsequently treated his son’s ‘nocturnal pollutions’ with a mixture of quinine and strychnine, of which Vincent commented: ‘This truly Gladstonian mixture of self-suppression and stimulation would unhinge any mind.’
After resigning his fellowship at Magdalen following allegations again involving choirboys, Symonds junior went on to become Victorian England’s only champion of gay rights, couching his views in scholarly, medical or Hellenistic terms. He married in 1864, but later persuaded his wife to accept a celibate relationship. Henry James, with uncharacteristic daring, based Mark Ambient in his story ‘The Author of Beltraffio’ (1884) on Symonds and his marital situation. Symonds and James met only once but they remained in correspondence. ‘It seemed to me the victims of a common passion should sometimes exchange a look,’ James wrote to him in 1884, ostensibly of Italy. ‘Perhaps I have divined the innermost cause of J.A.S’s discomfort,’ he wrote to Gosse about the story. ‘A post-card (in covert words) would relieve the suspense of the perhaps-already-too-indiscreet H.J.’
Vol. 25 No. 11 · 5 June 2003
As E.S. Turner (LRB, 17 April) writes, the unblemished reputation of Charles Vaughan vanished overnight when the facts about his relationships with his pupils at Harrow were published and his ostensible motive for refusing the See of Rochester – fear of ambition – was exposed as hypocrisy. Vaughan was, however, described on his death as ‘the most useful man in his generation to the Church of England’, chiefly because he was one of the first to see that a degree from Oxbridge or Durham was not sufficient to train a clergyman. When he became vicar of Doncaster, he collected groups of young graduates who came to live with him in the vicarage. They studied New Testament Greek in the mornings and did parish visiting in the afternoons. They became known as ‘Vaughan’s Doves’ and included a future Archbishop of Canterbury. Vaughan’s work led to the establishment of theological colleges at the end of the 19th century.