As a year passes since the pandemic changed the lives of everyone, many people are looking back to last Easter to see what has changed. The record of the Eton College Chronicle however, affords us an opportunity to look even further back and see what was happening during the Easter Half and Easter Holidays for those studying at Eton many years ago.
Of particular interest is an article on the first page of the Chronicle, number 1089, dated Thursday April 6th 1905, entitled The Easter Holidays in which the author speaks of the many and varied activities the Boys could engage in during the Easter break.
Sport is a well-covered topic in the Chronicle so it is of no surprise that the first part of the article discusses the different “athletic pursuits” that the Boys could partake in during the Easter Holidays despite there being “no single all-engrossing employment with which to pass the time”. Cricket is the first sport mentioned, noting how the Boys start their season thinking of the “wonderous caps” they could wear in varying colours according to their age and standing.
In addition to cricket, other sports are mentioned such as rowing and cycling but when mentioning golf the author references a Latin phrase from Horace’s Epistles “Sunt qui non habeant: est qui non curat habere” to say that with this sport there are those who are unable to play, but also those who do no want to be able to play which he seems to find interesting because of the “enormous fascination that the game seems to possess for the British nation as a whole”.
The article also suggests that some Boys may want to spend the time resting “to sleep off the effects of their mental exertions” after pouring over “the Expositor and other learned works” to further prepare for the Newcastle Scholarship examinations, whilst others might want to spend the time fishing, “wandering along the bank with a rod, ostensibly on the look-out for fish alone”. However, the author also worries that the Boys may require something more stimulating to fill their time while on a break from classes. For those that require more excitement, a stay abroad in “foreign lands” is suggested.
It is here that the author makes his final suggestion for an activity for any Boy struggling to find something to do during the Easter break, a suggestion that he fears “will be met with scorn and contempt” – reading.
The advice given is that Boys should do “some steady and regular reading”, and not necessarily classical works in Latin or Greek or the suggested reading for their classes in the next term but instead it’s suggested that they should read English Classical Literature “whether poetry or prose”. The author mentions that usually the excuse given is that there is “no time” to do this throughout the year as with “everything else that the Etonian leaves undone in the course of his existence” whilst studying at Eton. However the author of this article argues that this excuse does not stand here and suggests that the Boys trial it, “knowing that they are broadening their minds, and consequently passing the time… profitably”.
And who would want to spend the holidays reading? I for one, will spend my Easter break reading the Chronicle articles and imagining myself surrounded by the fascinating tomes in College Library.
By Courtney Rudge, Museum Custodian
Have a Happy Easter, from the Eton College Collections