The Perse School

“Education is happiness…if the life is there”

A letter from W.H.D Rouse, August 1945
5 Nov 2015

My dear Missen,

This is going to be a long letter, and dull. But I think you will read it, because I know you. You are one of my sons – all the OPs are my sons – and you will listen to pa because you ought. I am now rising 83, and I can’t last long: but I do hope to leave something good behind me. I will tell you later the kindly things. You saw the Perse School from the inside – and I want to show it to you from the inside. I was not disappointed by not seeing you at Exeter. I know some of your difficulties, for nothing ever disappoints me because I expect nothing, I only hope.

We had a unique staff at the Perse – all (except occasional wanderers who were a nuisance but couldn’t be helped) experts of the first class, all working together without personal aims, all proud of our skill and our accomplishments. If you look up the work of the old boys you will be amazed at what they are doing in every line of life, all over the world, from Sir George Thompson (sic) and his atom bomb upwards or downwards, and the unique genius Cauldwell Cook at the heart. I have just now one sideline in the job – Classical Method – but it is just one offshoot of the whole. You may call it Direct Method; we got to the heart of education and that is what I’m anxious about, because the modern world, politics included, is all materialism without soul, and the educational bosses are all indifferent to soul and spirit. They care only for amenities and “fortune careers”.

Language teaching is a sideline, but it is one that can be observed and can be checked. That is what we still show in our Summer Schools, and you might have seen very cleverly summarised at Exeter. It was a clear exposition, most enlightening. We have a hope to continue it. I hope you will make an opportunity to see it, not as a schoolboy learning but as an organiser. You know I regretted your becoming an organiser, because organisers are all the modern politicians can make, and they can be made; but you were a good teacher, a rarer thing, and worth more. Yet a good organiser can give the teachers a chance, as Morant gave me my chance, the only educational official I ever knew who had soul and imagination. But this little branch of education which I worked is despised and mocked by our bosses, and there you can help: only you must have knowledge and experience – as well as enthusiasm – to do your job properly.

The curious fact is that this spirit, if it gets in at one corner, vivifies the whole, not to mention that classics is still a real embodiment of the great spirit which is neglected by your Butler bureaucrats.

Forgive me if I am just bubbling up my thoughts. I will only add that the same spirit applied to history makes all the difference – and where it is not applied, you see the results in modern novels and so-called poetry, Joad and his toads, and so forth.

Education is happiness, for boys and masters, if the life is there – if not, it is a horror.

(The remainder of the letter is missing).

W.H.D.Rouse (1863 to 1950) was Headmaster of The Perse from 1902 to 1928. A classical scholar, he is mostly remembered for pioneering the Direct Method of teaching foreign languages and its application to Latin and Greek – an achievement which attracted international attention. He gave substantially to the School throughout his headship and in his will, and donated some 5,000 books to the library, which is now named in his honour. Rouse set up Hillel House for Jewish boarders (now the Pelican Nursery and Pre-Prep), and was responsible for introducing the classical ‘Perse purple’ in 1902.

 Leslie Missen (1897 to 1983) attended The Perse from 1908 to 1915. He was a captain in the Prince of Wales’s North Staffs Regiment, and later took a career in the civil service. He is the author of the books Toptable Talk and Quotable Anecdotes.

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