Dr. Joliffe’s Boys

By Lewis Hough

Athelstane E-Texts, which is apparently Nicholas Hodson, is an excellent institution dedicated to the making available of C19 texts. They will also produce e-texts of paper texts you have for a modest sum. However, that’s not the reason I mention them here. That’s because they have made available the text of Hough’s ‘Dr. Joliffe’s Boys’ — a, to stay in the jargon, ripping example of the early English boys’ school book.

  • Author: Lewis Hough
  • Title: Dr. Joliffe’s Boys
  • Published: 1883

Naturally, with the popularity of Harry Potter, interest in the whole genre of boarding school books has been rekindled. And in which era would we find the best examples of that art? In that era when the boarding school truly flourished. Wodehouse has tried his hand at this game early in his career — and I like his work a lot, but so did many others.

Hough appears to have produced an interesting set of books, including a treatise on monetary economy. However, that’s not the book under scrutiny.

Dr. Joliffe’s boys is a surprisingly fresh read, even today, although I should note that I am perhaps a bit more used to the vagaries of pre-WWII English than most native speakers. Indeed, I fancy I should have few problems fitting right in in present-day India, notoriously the last stronghold of the Metropolitan vernacular of the twenties.

Interesting in this book is not only its engaging writing style, but also its applicability to myself. One schoolboy, the estimable Tom Buller, has just one talent: he never gives up. He knows he’s no genius, but he equally knows that hard work can make up for the lack of innate talent. And that pulls him through the difficulties the author heaps upon him. He not only makes it into the First Eleven, but even becomes an officer in the British Army.

Another highlight is — and I’m not interested in the villainous Saurin (interesting sound coincidence. It is not at all unlikely that Tolkien had read this book, too — and is this the origin of Sauron’s name? Probably not. Folk etymology! But folk etymology is always fun.) — another highlight is the visit of golden wonderboy Crawley to the really rich family of one of his chums. Here, he fails completely, which no doubt is Character Building. But the character building is spoiled a little when retribution hits his chum and his pater loses all his money.

As I said, Athelstane has made this text available, so go and get it for yourself! There’s plenty of cricket to enjoy — even for people like me who don’t understand anything about it.

“Well cut, Saurin, well cut! Run it out! Four!” The ball was delivered again to the bowler, who meditated a shooter, but being a little tired, failed in his amiable intention, and gave the chance of a half-volley, which the batsman timed accurately, and caught on the right inch of the bat, with the whole swing of his arms and body thrown into the drive, so that the ball went clean into the scorer’s tent, as if desirous of marking the runs for itself.