I seek not your sympathy but cherish your attention as I here attempt to convey some of the events of my nightmare years as a student at Harrow in the early eighteen thirties. I entered school as a wretched farmer’s boy required to sit among the sons of peers, and their sophistication I at once admired, their wealth I envied, and their arrogance and insults I forgave, hoping someday they would at least accept if not embrace me.
Though I abhorred their behavior I also understood it, at least their willingness to strike the vulnerable. I was a boy large and awkward and ugly who “sulked about in a most unattractive manner,” wearing clothes at best dusty and often muddy for reasons they hurled: there he goes, unworthy of living on campus and stinking after another eternal walk from his hovel on a patch of dirt. I usually hurried on, suffering horribly, alone and without friends to discuss my pain.
Everyone, it seemed, stood against me. They laughed that I was receiving financial help and in turn performed various menial chores around the school. They treated me like a servant and guffawed that I belonged in debtors’ prison when my parents moved to the United States, leaving me bills I couldn’t pay. They naturally sneered when I asked if I might someday be allowed to play with them on the cricket grounds or racket courts.
Around Harrow I crept, waiting for the next humiliation. I knew it was coming, it always had, and I had promised myself next time I would do something. I’d thrash one of the wretches who assaulted my dignity and made me consider leaping from the top of the college tower. That I could always do. Now, though, here strutted Jones, bumping into me in the yard outside a building and pushing two-handed on my chest. Clumsy and unbathed, as ever, Trollope.
I should have hit him but couldn’t. I was afraid but desperate to respond, and said, shut your uncivilized mouth or I shall do so permanently.
Jones was shocked. So were his friends, gathering around. Repeat that, Trollope.
He swung and bloodied my nose, awakening me at last, and I began screaming and grunting and swinging wildly at a boy smaller than I, and landed but a single blow, a right to the left side of his face, and he yelped like a scared dog, and I tackled and pinned him and with both hands pummeled his face, enjoying my rare position of mastery, and might have kept punching a good while longer had his friends not pulled me off and said, all right, Trollope, that’ll be enough. It was, indeed. Jones had to be sent home a couple of weeks for medical ministrations and rest in private.
My physical strength, and evidently I had some, did not earn me much friendship, lacking as I did the necessary appearance and deportment, but I at least had this one satisfactory moment in school. I certainly had no academic compensation. In a dozen years I was not taught any French or German and don’t remember any lessons in writing or mathematics. They only fed me dead languages, Latin and Greek, and little I learned until independent study years later as an adult. Now an aging man and a novelist more than moderately well known, I’m writing my autobiography, to be published after my death, and hope that the boys who tormented me, and later as men proudly told people they’d been my schoolmate, will be strong enough of mind and character to verify this account is not a “false boast.”
Source: An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope