Wednesday, December 15, 2010

1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside

I am working from home today on my forthcoming paper on Social Change in New England 1950-2000. I was digging around looking for information on one branch of the Ogilvie family that I plan to weave into my story. Purely by accident I found this editorial from the December 1923 edition of my old school magazine, The Armidalian (Vol XXVI, No 4).

It has a certain relevance to the story I was telling in Delos: introducing Sparta vs Athens where I mentioned the continuing influence of Greece. Have a browse, and I will tell you a little of the story at the end.



The WCW is William Charles Wentworth, the great-grandson of the original William Charles Wentworth who is seen by many as one of the founders of Australian democracy. Oddly, perhaps not, there was a Blaxland at the school at the around the same time. For all I know there was a Lawson as well, thus completing the generational triumvirate that crossed the Blue Mountains.

There was something wonderfully eccentric about the Wentworths.

WCW IV must have been about fifteen or sixteen when he wrote this piece. Clearly he was a very bright boy, but the stories of the antics he got up to were still alive if maybe somewhat apocryphal when I got to the school all those years later. Wentworth went onto a career in politics in which he combined support for the anti-communist cause with a passionate belief in Aboriginal advancement; today he is best known and respected for the last.

I do not remember the name of the Greek play he referred to. The school presented it in Sydney. It may well have been the first and probably the last play performed entirely in classical Greek by an Australian school. Sadly, not even WCW could prevent the decline of Classical Greek at TAS, although Latin was to survive.

I hope that you enjoyed this story! 


In a comment, KVD pointed me to this excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald of  Monday 17 December 1923.     

The Armidale School Dramatic Society will present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corncillo's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy), at the King's Hall this evening. Plan at Paling's.

Certainly all very learned stuff! Presumably W Wentworth-Shields was the son of the then Bishop of Armidale. According to K J Cable's ADB entry on Bishop Wentworth-Shields, the Bishop came to Armidale in 1916. Given that he married in 1902, his son would have been twenty or twenty-one. 

The Bishop had scholarly interests and was apparently monumentally absent minded. The death of his wife in 1927 made him anxious to return home to England. Leaving Armidale in 1929, in 1930 he took up the wardenship of St Deiniol's Residential Library, Chester ; In Cable's words, he held this agreeable, scholarly office until 1939, while acting as assistant bishop to the Archbishop of Wales. Survived by two sons, he died at Chester on 13 September 1944.

Gaspard de Coligny was a French nobleman and Huguenot leader killed in the St Bartholomew's Day Massacres of 1572.

If I'm right in all this, we have an Armidale school not just presenting a play in Sydney in Classical Greek, but also another piece written by a young old boy, the son of an English born Bishop, on a French leader who dies 350 years before. 

On top of all this, Corncillo's Le Cid appears to be a very obscure French piece. I love the vagaries of it all!     

Postscript 2

I should have read further in that Armidalian. I found what I think is the text of the Wentworth-Shield's play. Very dramatic. I might run it tomorrow. I also found that the quarrel scene was presented in the original French! And then I found this little piece.

I don't know who W McC was, nor can I comment on the accuracy of the piece. 




Anonymous said...

Terrific stuff Jim!

I found this link which might be relevant:

which is SMH Monday 17 December 1923

and down the left side in the summaries is:

The Armidale School Dramatic Society will present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corneille's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy)at the King's Hall this evening. Plan at Paling's.

What an interesting connection!


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you for this, KVD. I will add it to the bottom of the post. The W Wentworth Shields (old boy)has to be the son of the Bishop of Armidale -