Tuesday, December 25, 2012


A Disappointed Scholar

Francis Lucas, "Nightingale—In Memoriam / J.S. (a disappointed scholar)," in Sketches of Rural Life and Other Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889), pp. 117-118:
Sing on, brave bird. He cannot chide thee now
For adding night to sadness. In the deeps
Of an unfathomable quiet sleeps
The spirit which once mantled on that brow,
And spoke in those sad eyes. Nor ever creeps
Into his sweet forgetfulness the gall
Of disappointment, slights, and unsuccess,
Nor the despondency at matin-call
When needs still multiplied as means grew less.
Well, there were hours which even he could bless,
Oddments of time which found him at his ease,
By the loved stream or in the cool recess,
Under the shadow of his garden trees,
With Goethe, Molière, or Sophocles.
J.S. was John Sugars, master of the Free School in Hitchin. See Reginald L. Hine, Confessions of an Un-common Attorney (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1945), pp. 221-222:
Sometimes, there flits by me the pallid spectre of John Sugars, Niblock's most promising pupil, a man of brilliant parts and strikingly handsome appearance who also became master of that school. But a hopeless love affair broke his heart and snapped the mainspring of his ambition. Under him the school went on dwindling and decaying, until its doors were closed and the prematurely old master sank into private life. Now at long last, 'equilibrious in adversitie,' he could bury himself in his books, with no disturbing clangour of the school-house bell. Often, they said, he would sit up talking with his old scholars, John Gatward or John Widdows, until the stars paled at the first flush of dawn. Once, as he stood on Widdow's doorstep, saying a last good-bye, the birds were already in song. 'Do you like to hear them sing?' he asked his friend, 'I hate it.' It was that sad utterance that echoed in Francis Lucas's memory when he sat down some months later to write his touching elegy for 'J.S., a disappointed scholar'...
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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