23 March 2012

Ephemera #3: 'Victa et Etona est'

Ephemera is not limited to just printed material. Transitory written matter, such as this 78 x 38mm. card with Latin verse, also fit the definition.

The card was found in 2008 among the contents of an unprocessed box of manuscript material (now fully catalogued) in the Reed Autograph Letters & Manuscripts Collection, Heritage Collections, Dunedin City Library.

The text reads:

Cui paret turba,
Nunc arbitrorum
Accipe verba.

Desine seria
Paullum tractare:
Solita feria
Detur. Sed quare?

Judices urgent
'Feria bona est'
Pueri assurgent
'Victa et Etona est'

G. D. to G. R.
Win: Coll.
Cloister Time 1878


O you who the throng of Wykehamists obey,
Now receive the words of the arbiters.

Cease dealing with serious matters for a while;
Let the customary holiday be granted. But why?

The judges are insistent: 'It is a good holiday'.
The boys will rise up [and shout]: 'Eton is beaten'.


Who were 'G. D.' and 'G. R.'? What event caused the author to compose this short verse?

It is believed that 'G.D.' was the judge and politician George Denman (1819–1896), who 'from his schooldays found verse writing easy and continued to read Greek and Latin classics for pleasure' (ODNB). The recipient was either George Ridding (1828–1904), headmaster of Winchester College from 1867 to 1884, or George Richardson, who was second master from 1873 to 1898 (though the headmaster seems more likely). 

Denman was not an Old Wykehamist, having attended Felsted and then Repton School before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1838. He was, however, present at the assizes courts, which were held in Winchester in early July 1878.

According to Suzanne Foster (Winchester College Archives), who identified Denman and Ridding/Richardson as author and recipient, it was customary for Winchester prefects to write to the judges and ask for an extra day's holiday.

The reason for the desired holiday, noted Foster, was based on a cricket match. Winchester plays Eton each year and in 1878, Winchester beat Eton for the first time since 1871. This match was, and still is, one of the most significant days in the school calendar. Denman's verse, therefore, asks Ridding to grant an additional day's holiday, at a time when the boys were celebrating their success against Eton and looking forward to the end of term.

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