Homily - Vril

The men who run Europe - Vril

The Larios Family - Master of the Hunt - Vril

The Battle for Normandy - Vril

The Mobile War - Vril

Catholic Chaplains in the Great War - Vril







A Composition of Place 

By Alastair Russell


(This article first appeared in the Tablet August 14th 1965 and thereafter in The Beaumont Review in October).



Even in these days of a great urban sprawl stretching further and further out of London one can still find havens of peace and beauty within three-quarters of an hour of Hyde Park, and the loveliest of these is Beaumont. In the journey from town one hardly sees green at all until Runnymede is reached, and even there car loads of bikinis are picnicking along the banks of the river: Londoners seem unhappy if they are away from a crowd. Enter the gates of Beaumont, though, and things are different. The green countryside is not overgrown with sprawling bodies, nor is the quiet disturbed by potted music. One should go up the correct drive if one wants the full effect of a meadow surrounded by fine trees, and, at the top of a gentle slope, the White House. This is Beaumont, and a place which I have loved very deeply.



The White House is the nucleus of Beaumont: the other buildings have spread from it. It is a smaller edition of the White House in Washington, and looks magnificent with its formal colonnade of four pillars; but one must approach it up the correct drive, for not all the subsequent architecture has been so successful. If one enters Beaumont up the wrong drive, higgledy-piggledy masses of small dwellings built for utility rather than grandeur form the first impression, and this is unfair on Beaumont. After all, every large building and institution has its nether regions which are not shown to visitors but which nonetheless exist. On the whole the architecture of Beaumont has achieved a sense of unity despite its piece-meal history. From almost every angle Beaumont is not only dignified but beautiful. I have already hinted at the delight of the White House in its framework of trees. On the other side the L-shaped buildings adjoin wide, well-kept lawns, flanked by woods of great trees which stretch right along the playing fields and up to the beeches which are the crowning glory of the estate, Even in harassed wartime years the lawns were kept smooth, and of course it takes more than a war to spoil the glory of a wood. On these lawns, backed by the wood stands the war memorial which was designed by Gilbert and Adrian Scott: surely there can be no finer monument anywhere. Its design is perfect, its setting perfect, and it was intended to stand in abiding memory of the Beaumont boys who died in the two world wars. Perhaps now it will be allowed to stand in abiding memory of Beaumont.



The natural beauty of the place has not been upset by practical considerations. The expanse of fields which terminates in the cricket ground is excellent for games, and yet wherever one turns the prospect is pleasing. On one side the high beeches with their ever-changing colour; on another side the shadowed darkness of the woods; on the third the ivy-coloured buildings with the Thames valley beyond; and on the fourth side more meadows, and, through the trees, St. John’s. The cricket field itself, as everyone knows, is incomparable. It would be difficult to fault it from any angle unless it be the angle of a slip fielder peering for the ball as it emerges from the background of trees. Some, may not like the pavilion. It is certainly not luxurious, nor is it sightly. But it has been there for years and is part of the scene. It was to have been retired this year, for money had been raised for a new pavilion.

But my memories of Beaumont are not just of a place of gentle grandeur. We have all seen wonderful places which we can remember and describe, but which are in no sense part of us. It is the spirit of Beaumont I want to catch. It is something wonderful in itself, not just something in a wonderful setting. I am not sure I can begin to do it, certainly not adequately.



When one says a thing is ‘living’ one means that there is a continuity between past present. Life can never be a series of disconnected happenings, for the living thing connects them all and makes a unity out of diversity. In this sense Beaumont has always been alive and her history a unity. She has always had a great grip on her old boys. Past students return as their parents did before them, and as they hoped their sons might after them. At every important occasion at Beaumont (exams excepting) parents and old boys and Js have mingled together. The Beaumont Union tie has flourished at Deal for the Halford-Hewitt Cup (Beaumont was one of the earliest entrants of this inter-school competition), flourished at Lords for the Beaumont-Oratory match, flourished at Henley for the regatta: worn by people linked by personal friendship and happy in their mutual affection for their school. But it is at Beaumont itself that they feel most at home. The Jesuits may not be the same Jesuits, lay masters, too, may move, but ever there is the same friendly welcome and the delightful sense of belonging.



What is all this about Jesuits being fierce, ruling their underlings with rods of iron, terrifying the boys into numbed obedience? This is what I was told when I had left Beaumont and was in the army, my informant was the product of another Catholic school run by another order, and he assured me as a fact that Beaumont was designed as an L so that a Jesuit, ferula swinging from the hip, could stand in the corner and spy on everything that was happening everywhere, Ferulas exist of course, but they are not rods of iron. In the life of every boy there are painful and unhappy experiences, and usually they are deserved. There is a great deal to be said for the Jesuit theory of punishing on principle and never on emotion. Certain crimes merit certain punishment- everyone knows this. The master ordering the punishment can never administer it and so anger does not creep in. This seems healthy.



In fact, the relationship between master and pupil at Beaumont has always been superb, friendly and relaxed. The ultimate proof of the kindness of the Jesuits is the affection in which we have always held them as individuals. The lay staff and servants must have found this, too: how otherwise could there be the tremendous record of servants remaining for half centuries, and even for generations? How otherwise could there be masters who have taught three generations of one family? For them as for us a black dream has descended from which we are not to awake. Whatever may be our personal degree of heartbreak and unhappiness over the blow that has fallen, I do not think that there can be a single member of the Beaumont Union who will not admit to the full the debt that he owes to individual members of the Society of Jesus. It is not just a question of education:  goodness knows one is not bound to love one’s teachers. It is not just a question of tolerable comfort in pleasant surroundings during the inevitable period of one’s schooldays* What is it, then? Perhaps it is that the Js and the lay masters gave more than their knowledge: they gave themselves and set us an example of Christian patience, humour and toleration. They have taught us a love of Our Lord and given us that mature faith which lasts through a crisis and brings with it the hope of salvation. Perhaps that is why many of us have kept coming back and back again, not just nostalgically renewing memories, but feeling very much at home.



In a sense this makes matters worse. If Beaumont were just a piece of one’s past it wouldn’t matter so much: not, anyway, to former students. It is because it is so much a part of one’s present that it hurts so much. I am afraid this is in the nature of an obituary notice. It is not for me to enter here into the pros and cons of the order of execution but the one thing I am clear on is that something rather wonderful is being made to die. All the Jesuits who have had anything to do with Beaumont realise this, though to others Beaumont may only be one name among many.