Celebrity squares

18th October 1996 at 01:00
School magazines can offer the first glimpse of future fame. A.D Harvey traces their development. It is a little known fact that both Robert Graves and Philip Larkin had their first poems printed in their school magazines. Or that in The Tonbridgian, for November 1895, E M Forster was dismayed to discover that only 15 books on art and architecture were lent out from the school library, compared to 172 Harrison Ainsworth novels.

School magazines offer not only telling portraits of the social milieu of schools but early glimpses of future celebrity. Kenneth Clarke in The Nottinghamian for December 1958 explains with politic optimism that though the school Fives club had been badly beaten in an Eton Fives match, "this was hardly surprising as the court and tactics for this game are very different from those of the Rugby Fives that we playI So long as this enthusiasm for the game is maintained, the Fives Club can continue to extend its activities and can look forward to the future with confidence".

The first school magazine was The Microcosm, which appeared weekly at Eton between November 1786 and July 1787. It contained over-long literary essays with nothing about life at the school. Apart from a couple of ventures at Westminster, the schoolboy magazine remained essentially an Eton phenomenon until the 1830s.

By 1832, the year of the Great Reform Act, The Eton College Magazine was more school-orientated. Issue No 8, for example, printed "A School Eclogue", an instalment of "Autobiography of an Etonian" and an essay "On Eton Games". As boys at other schools began to take up the idea, the school-life element came more to the fore, the short-lived The Rugby Miscellany (1845-6), for example, contained articles on "School Traditions", "Experiences of our Life at Rugby", "The Last Year in the Sixth" and "Rugby Debating Society". But such magazines lasted only so long as their founders remained at school.

The modern magazine which, though largely produced by pupils, is under the control of the teachers, and which functions as a more-or-less official record of school life, seems to date from the late 1850s.

Their format quickly became standardised: sports reports, debating society and other clubs, scholastic achievements, staff obituaries, literary contributions (usually brief). One finds remarkably little difference between those of the 1860s and those issued 100 years later.

A D Harvey's latest book, Sex in Georgian England: Attitudes and Prejudices from the 1720s to the 1820s, is published by Duckworth

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