The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Late Dr. Almond, of Loretto

by Thomas B. Whitson, C.A.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 413-417

Dr. Hely Hutchison Almond, August 12, 1832-March 7, 1903, Headmaster of Loretto School in Musselburgh, Scotland (Wikipedia)

It would be foolish for one who is in no sense an educationalist, but a mere business man, to attempt to set before such a society as the P.N.E.U. any original remarks worthy attention concerning such an educational enthusiast as the late Dr. Almond; and for a very average Lorenttonian to presume to write a line expressing any opinion of weight as to the worth and aims of "The Head" would be monstrous.

It is nearly 20 years since I first saw "The Head." It was my good fortune to see a good deal of him after that, but had I only seen him once I should always have remembered him. His was a striking appearance, very different from that of a typical headmaster. He impressed one at once, yet it was at first sight difficult to say exactly whether it was the man or his extraordinary garb which arrested attention. He was a man of medium height, with a fine silver grey head. He had a high forehead, keen eyes, and good nose. His speech was quick, with obviously very rapid thought behind. He wore, and I afterwards knew it as his usual work-a-day dress, a flannel shirt open at the neck, with flannel collar attached, and no tie, white flannel trousers, anatomical shoes, and an unlined brown Harris tweed coat over his arm. Could anything have been less orthodox? Yet my first feeling was that of respect, afterwards, as with all his boys, to deepen into veneration.

Dr. Almond recognised that his boys were creatures of intelligence, and he treated them accordingly. The necessary rules of a school were made to bear as lightly as possible upon us, and though there were master, prefects, house-prefects, and all the necessary machinery for enforcing rules, there was no "spying" upon the boys. Each boy in certain matters was put on his honour. To break a rule was so ridiculously easy that there was no "kudos" to be gained in doing so. The chances against being found out were, I fancy, much greater than at other schools, but dire punishment ensued when a boy was caught transgressing certain of the more important rules—an unusual occurrence I am, for the sake of schoolboy honour, glad to say.

All punishment was corporal, since every moment of the day was occupied with its own work, and punishment by imposition would have entailed neglect of some definite work—what is called play elsewhere is in reality a part of the work at Loretto. Punishment was never harsh, and all had the right to refuse a licking and appeal to the headmaster.

After a boy had been at school some time, he would be invited to walk with "The Head." As a rule, the boy would find another boy who had been asked to accompany him, and the three would spend an afternoon walking in Dalkeith Palace grounds or elsewhere. These afternoons, or evenings if the weather was very warm, were considered red-letter days by the favoured individuals. It was while engaged on these walks that we came to understand and love "The Head." As we became more friendly, for he made all his boys his friends, we became imbued with the desire, if possible, to live up to his standard, if only for his sake.

Having gained the boys' affections and awakened their interest, it was small wonder that he was able to instill into us his ideas, very different though these were from what we had in most cases been accustomed to before coming to Loretto. One of the most difficult tasks he set himself was to break down the chief maxim of the recognised schoolboy code of honour,—that one boy must not tell anything against another. Preaching from the text, "Am I my brother's keeper?" he would tell us that we were our brothers' keepers, and that it was our duty to keep each other right. He encouraged boys to report to him truly those things which he ought to know of other boys, and, wonderful as it may seem, his policy worked admirably. He was, in consequence, the means of doing many a boy untold good.

The motto he chose for his school was "Spartam nactus es: hanc exorna," ['You inherit Sparta, rise up to it'] and the gospel he taught was the consecration of the body as well as the mind. He able successor, Mr. H. B. Tristram, a former head-boy at Loretto, preaching to the school on Sunday, March 15th, thus spoke of him: "Strong within him, bursting out at times into glorious enthusiasm, was his love of manliness, of the magnificent man, of the man who can dare and not be afraid; and as the necessary complement of this, equally strong was his horror and loathing of bodily sins, such as gluttony, drunkenness, and the fouler vices. Realising so strongly how luxury and softness of living so often lead to these grosser sins, he ever set his face against softness and luxury in man or boy. Beyond all I have ever met, he had the fullest and most real appreciation of the meaning of the consecration of the body; and he understood most clearly what Paul meant when he spoke of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice to God. He always strove to live up to his ideal; and by precept and example to make others do the same."

Dr. Almond taught and had pleasure in teaching the individual, but his aim was higher and broader; his object was, not the success or prowess of the individual, but the welfare of the community. That he taught the school so that he might educate the nation all will have realised who have carefully read his evidence before the Royal Commission on Physical Education (Scotland), published in the Parents' Review of April and May.

Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons:—"Why, oh why, cannot there be a holy alliance between the athlete and the Christian—an alliance against the common enemies of both, against intemperance, and indolence, and dissipation, and effeminacy, and all the unnatural and demoralising elements in our social life? Why will some take so narrow a view of the true aims of physical training, that they bound their horizon by the vision of prizes and athletic honours, not seeing that in themselves and by themselves, these things are as worldly and as worthless as unsanctified wealth, or knowledge, or literature, or art? Why will others, again, who would not willingly break any of God's Commandments, who would not pass a day without prayer, who believe and trust in a risen Saviour—why will they not regard sedentary habits, and softness of living, and feebleness that might have been strength, and delicacy that might have been hardihood, as physical sins? Why will they not devote to the service of the Kingdom of Heaven blood as pure, limbs as supple, condition as fit, energies as buoyant, as if they were aspirants for a championship, and so do something to wipe out the reproach that religion is a feeble, emasculated thing, good enough for sick beds and solemn functions, but out of place amid the strong, rough work, and the more manly joys of life?"

To proclaim that teaching was his life's work, and though it may seem a common-place to some of the readers of the Parents' Review now, it should be borne in mind that he was once alone in his ideas, and was long the object of ridicule and scorn. But in following the truth he was careless of what people might think or say for he had that individuality which he admired in others, and without which no man is truly great. He was called eccentric, and to those who could not understand him he seemed to place what are popularly called "Games" first, and all else second. That was far from being a true estimate of him.

He never wearied of preaching that breaches of the law of health—a law he was careful to inform us thoroughly of—are sins, and that care of the body is the first duty of each.

Shut windows and all kinds of coddling were anathema. It was one of Dr. Almond's great points, that one should never, night nor day, be too warmly clad. Loretto boys are dressed in flannels—short loose white knickers, a flannel shirt, open at the neck, and a coat—on all working days, in the classrooms as well as outside, and in all kinds of weather. When the temperature of the classroom reaches 60 degrees each boy must take off his coat. Should he feel cold then he may put it on again. If a boy feels cold, the remedy is to be had by exercise and not by fires or artificial heat. Thus only can colds be avoided.

Writing to me in the end of January last, he said: "A boy slouching or scowling or coddling himself, or looking as if he ate too fast, or lounging when he should be trotting, perhaps worries me for the morning"; and again in February he wrote: "When you see Loretto boys cycling in coats on a hot day, advice my representative to sell the place up."

He emphasised the individuality and anti-Grundyism of the school, and he would not brook interference. In the last letter he wrote to me, about a fortnight before he died, he expressed his "alarm at the tendency to interference all round. At present, it seems particularly to be aimed at schools." In a previous letter he said: "This dreadful recent movement in the direction of regulation and regimentation is the cankerworm at the root of the State. The ultimate tendency is to repress all independence, originality, and individual initiation: to crush genius in the womb and utterly destroy the freedom which has been our national character and boast . . . But to give you an instance of the sort of interference which I dread. All schools, not private property, must go in for the leaving certificate.

"The examinations for this are at the end of June. This means a slack July. No school does good work after exams, and slackness in work begets it out of school in the most dangerous time of the whole year.

"Again, I don't approve of some things about the course of study dictated by the leaving certificate. Possibly also we might be obliged to have cadet corps with a uniform, which is in the teeth of my principles."

Dr. Almond did not object to a cadet corps in itself, but as it was apparently impossible to have a corps without being bound by the War Office regulations as regards uniform, and compelled to wear tight-fitting tunics instead of loose flannels, he set his face against a corps at Loretto.

By Loretto boys of every generation he was honoured and loved. He was the friend of each, and his manner of dealing with the boys will be best understood perhaps if I quote his last message to the head boy, written only a few days before his death:—"It is not a matter of life any longer, but I have to keep as quiet as I can. If I can't see any of you, you will know it is not from want of caring. Now then, old chap, keep the school straight and pure, and keep up our peculiar ways. There is more at the bottom of them than most of you think. I don't care of Loretto being the strongest or cleverest school: I want it to be the most rational and the best. To yourself and the others, my warmest love; and to those who have done anything to keep the school straight, my deepest thanks. You do not know how much this wrench from my boys is costing me."

Dr. Almond died on the evening of 7th March, 1903, after having been for over forty years headmaster of Loretto. Few masters have been so universally beloved by their pupils, no headmaster ever left behind him more sorrowing friends to revere and honour his memory, and none have accomplished a greater work.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008