Evelyn Waugh in Country Life

Country Life magazine has published a list of 60 things that make Britain great. No. 43 is the public school:

Ever since William of Wykeham set up his college for poor scholars in Winchester more than 600 years ago, these schools have been part of national life. Private schools only educate about 7% of the school-age population and annual fees are in excess of £30,000 a year for some. Nearly all, however, provide extensive academic, sports, music and arts scholarships and bursaries. They set a gold standard to which our universal education should aspire.

Each entry is accompanied by a representative photo of the subject and is followed by an appropriate quotation of a British writer. In the public school entry, the photo might be of Harrow and Evelyn Waugh provides the quote:

That’s the public-school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down.

Country Life may not have fully appreciated the context of the quotation. It is from Decline and Fall (Part One, Chapter 3) where Captain Grimes is describing to Paul Pennyfeather his experiences as a public school teacher. He explains that he usually gets along all right at a school for about six weeks and “then I land up in the soup,” no doubt referring to some pederastic activity. But the system supports its own. Grimes recalls his days as a schoolboy when he “got the push after my sixteenth birthday” for what appears to have been similar activity. His housemaster, “a public school man [who] knew the system” nonetheless gave him a “corking good letter” which he still used to find new employment whenever he got the sack.

Another Waugh connection, unattributed, is in entry No. 21, the country house. The unidentified illustration for that subject is Mells Manor where Waugh was a frequent guest of his friend Katharine Asquith.

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