The Spike: or, Victoria College Review 1912
You will observe that I take my heading after the manner of Montaigne, Addison and others of the greater literary periods. Consider it not presumption, gentle reader, for it is but a subterfuge to take the mind back from an age of Cycling Clubs, Surf Clubs, Skating Clubs, Societies, Institutions, Circles, and so forth, to the intellectual ages. From an age of tabloid knowledge, information, directories, encyclopædias, muddle and many religions, to the time of the poets, the nation, culture and the coffee-houses, when men thought it more desirable to live honourably than merely to live.
Surely none of us dare keep a diary and write therein every incident of our life and balance it yearly like a ledger, placing on the one side the time spent in mechanical (asks, in mere routine, the duties whereby we feed and clothe ourselves, and on the other the time spent in thought and meditation, the consideration of the beautiful and the ideal, the really ennobling things that page 29 feed the soul. Would not our animal occupations so greatly outweigh those of the intellect, whereby we are different from the lower animals, as to bring a great shame upon us?
Perhaps if we confine our investigations to New Zealand alone these thoughts will appear less extravagant. Reflect for a moment. How stands our Literature in the scale of things? Our Art? Our Science? Are we not so busy following the achievements of older countries, reading their Literature, admiring their Art, applying their Science, that we ourselves are non-productive, or, at the best, but foolish imitators? Our gaze is fixed steadily outward when it should be turned searchingly inward.
The Student at the University is forced to acquire what is, after all, a superficial knowledge of many subjects for examination purposes. His time is very limited. Would it not be better for himself and the State if he became great, famous, in one subject, rather than a mere nonentity at many? The remedy is plain. We must adopt a self-reliant policy of internal examinations, and induce both the University College and the individual student to Specialize. The road to greatness for our country is straight and long, yet we have not yet started upon it. Our ideas still come, with our fashions, from London.
Now to our Clubs. Public opinion in New Zealand is entirely at the mercy of the Newspapers. They play with it as a cat plays with a mouse. The uneducated, perforce, must echo the opinions of the Editor of their particular brand of Newspaper. The educated are too engrossed in their pursuit of coin collecting to shout their opinions from the housetops, and are content to exchange them over the 5 o'clock drink or in the tramcar. However valuable their thoughts and reflections are on various subjects, they must perforce lie buried and lost, for there is no way of circulating them for their face value.
Emerson says, "I need only hint the value of the Club for bringing masters in their several arts to compare and expand their views, to come to an understanding on these points, so that their united opinion shall page 30 have its just influence on public questions of education and politics." Again, "Wisdom is like electricity. There are no permanently wise men, but men capable of wisdom, who being put into certain company or other favourable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while."
Thus I would bring you to the serious consideration of the necessity of placing club life in New Zealand on a new footing. Also I would have you consider it as though the foundation, the origin of such clubs were to come from the University. And why not? The true University is the home of a country's Culture, the originator of its Thought, the Mother of its Statesmen, Scientists, Soldiers, Poets, Writers, of its all. So far as that is it from being a night-school. Her status, her scope, must be so raised that her students may be the country's great men, and the country's great men her students. The day may yet come when lectures will be delivered at Victoria College on Art, Science, Literature, and so forth, that Mr. Baeyertz and Frank Morton would be pleased to attend.
Then will there be a University Club where "masters in their several arts will compare and expand their views," and it shall be for a power in the land well befitting the status of a University. Thus you see, gentle student, we have far to go before lifting ourselves entirely from the imputation of being a night-school for law clerks and school teachers. The real value of specialization has not yet been thoroughly grasped by our legislators, and the Students' Association cannot be accused of having shown an undue interest in the University's welfare in that direction.
As for the Clubs, it is well known that at a certain dinner during last Capping Carnival time in Wellington a number of University men "capable of wisdom were put into certain company and other favourable conditions. and did "become wise for a short time"; magnificently, eloquently, wise. But let me digress a little while.
Terrible rumours were abroad. Some said it was a Secret Society, formed for the commission of dark and dreadful deeds. Others, that every man had sworn to "sink a pint mug of beer with every toast" except that of page 31 the Professorial Board, when they were to sink two. So I went round. A guard of constables was at the door, and they saluted when 1 approached. Giving the Sergeant my boots to hold, I crept upstairs. The passage was littered with boots all sizes and shapes. One pair was remarkable for its size and the peculiarity of its bumps. With a phrenological curiosity 1 examined it closely, and found that each boot was neatly stuffed with paper, in order, I suppose, that it might retain it shape. Inside were the initials N.Z., or V.Z.—I am not sure which. The origin of this peculiar custom of removing the boots, 1 found, lies in an accusation once brought against the Club of rowdiness on the way home one morning. As I entered on tip-toe a young man was standing at the head of the room (wherein were two long tables), delicately fingering the stem of a wine-glass containing, as afterwards he told me, a little of Messrs. Thompson and Lewis's famous Raspberry Fizz. The moment was a strikingly impressive one. In tones of mingled sorrow and indignation he was relating that some malignant and unscrupulous scoundrel had spread the ingenious story amongst those whom they held dear at Salamanca that there was to be liquor at the gathering which he now addressed. Amidst all the heartbroken sobs and cries of indignation which greeted those words, I retained sufficient control over my feelings (for my heart went out to them) to observe two faces that made a lasting impression upon me. The one was that of a man somewhat more aged than his companion's. Never have I seen more wonderfully depicted the emotion of surprise. Two blonde eyebrows were raised as no ordinary man could raise them, and two frank, pained, blue eyes gazed in astonishment at the speaker over a pair of spectacles resting carelessly low down upon a delicately aquiline and truly aristocratic nose. His clean-shaven lips were drawn back in a half credulous smile, which gradually changed to an appearance akin to sternness. The other was that of a kindly-faced gentleman with a fair moustache and reflective blue eyes. His grey tinged hair surmounted features that might betoken a man who had spent his whole life without doing one act of harshness to man or animal. He alone, of that whole assembly, retained an appearance page 32 of perfect calm, the calmness of one who knows not of guilt or fear or any such. Gazing thus quietly at the decanter in front of him he impressed me greatly as one whom politicians might envy.
In a few moments arose one who, from the smile that played around the corners of his mouth, appeared to hold the key to the situation. He addressed them with a mingling sweetness of philosophical reassurance and political wisdom, that turned this gathering of indignant men into one of happy, careless, undergraduates. Truly, I thought, my informants were mis-taken; and my heart went out to them a second time as my eyes dimmed with memories of Old Heidelberg, for never since those happy days had I been so near to the old undergraduate life. He spoke a few appropriate words concerning the saving of things on the housetops that should be whispered in the chamber, and much else besides. He was indeed an excellent jester.
Many were the old College songs that echoed round those four walls, many the stories, and great the laughter. The world appeared to me to be a happy place, and, after taking a large mug of Ginger Ale which a pleasant-mannered fair young man handed me when I beat him down from 5s 6d to 3s 9d over some money he wished me to give him, 1 sank into a quiet reverie, which seemed, perchance, like slumber. I know not now whether I handed it to him or he took it as thus I lay—and how much he took.
Later came the sound of dim voices and laughter and that self-same aristocratic gentleman of the spectacles appeared to be speaking. He spoke impassionately of his youth and of his ambitions. How he had striven with all the cunning of a janitor and the enthusiasm of a freshman to be wicked. This appeared to me to be strange in such a polished gentleman, and I gazed intently. Then, indeed, I saw the callousness of that smile, the cunning of those frank blue eyes, and the tell-tale lines upon that forehead. With trembling voice he related his fleeting successes in tea-rooms, at bar-counters, front rows at theatres, the whole pitiable tale—and my heart went out to him as he told how he had failed dismally through insufficiency of money. Brave page 33 man indeed, he said he would strive on, for the sake of the past. Then again that drowsiness overtook me, and I sank slowly in a whirling sea of clinking glasses, song, and story.
Truly that night shall live long in my memory, and I shall go forth and seek again those merry souls : yet no silver shall I bear with me.