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Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION: DARJEELING AND ENGLAND


1

I am sorry indeed that I have not been able to find any records pertaining to the studies of Sri Aurobindo, nor have I been able to find any photographic material or registers of that period. If such records existed as I am sure they did, they must have perished in the great earthquake of 1934, when the building known as the Boys School collapsed. I am, however, enclosing a photograph of the school building as it existed in those days.1 The name of the then Reverend Mother was Mother Joseph Hogan.

From a letter of M. Victorine, Loreto Convent, Darjeeling, to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research Library, 19 July 1973.

2

The High Master has asked me to reply to your letter of February 12th. I will try to answer your questions in the order that you ask them.

1. The ICS Class was a group of senior boys who were working for the ICS entrance examination. The class was organised by the School, and had no official recognition from the ICS. There were five such boys at St. Paul’s in Ghose’s last year, of whom he appears to have been the only Indian. He stood second in the class, and passed 11th — out of all candidates — into the ICS.

2. Elected to St. Paul’s. Ghose was elected, by competitive examination as a Foundation Scholar. There were — and are — 153 such scholars at the School at any one time. They receive remittance of part of their fees, and are regarded as the intellectual élite of the school. 23 such scholars came to St. Paul’s in September 1884.

3. Ghose would have entered the School in September 1884. I don’t know if he moved to London then, or already lived in London. In our Admission Registers his father’s address is given as 49 St. Stephen’s Avenue, Shepherd’s Bush.2 Shepherd’s Bush is within a mile or so of the then site of St. Paul’s School, in West Kensington, and Ghose could have travelled to School on foot or by bus. At the same date Manmohan Ghose, his brother, came to St. Paul’s. His address was the same, but the entry refers not to his father, but to his guardian, whose name was W.H. Drewett.3

Manmohan Ghose was a poet, barrister, inspector of schools and professor at Goa and Calcutta and served for a time in the ICS. He was a friend of the well-known poet Laurence Binyon, who was also at St. Paul’s. Binyon wrote a memoir of Manmohan, published as an introduction to his Songs of Love and Death (Blackwell, Oxford, 1926): but it says little about his brother, except that Aurobindo was the more brilliant scholar of the two.

4. The school terms began — and begin — in September, January and April: but the largest number of boys always enter in September. Aurobindo certainly did so, in 1884.

5. Aurobindo Ghose left St. Paul’s in July 1890. I don’t know where he spent the few months before going up to Cambridge.

6. Aurobindo Ghose entered the School in the sixth Class, being promoted to the seventh in 1885, the Middle Eighth in 1886, and then to the Highest Form, the Upper Eighth in 1887. Most of his studies will have been in the Latin and Greek Classics: but in 1889 he was awarded Second Prize in the Butterworth Prize Examination “for knowledge of English Literature, especially of Shakespeare”. In November 1889 at meetings of the School Literary Society, Ghose took part in discussions of Swift and Milton.

We are proud to number this great man among our old boys.

Letter of Hugh Mead, Librarian, St. Paul’s School, to the Archives, 22 February 1973.

3

There is no examination for passing out of St. Paul’s School other than the Public examinations which were taken in the last century. The Scholarship examination of King’s College was taken at Cambridge under the supervision of the College authorities. There was one examination but several papers, further details of which can be obtained from King’s College.4 The Scholarship was paid from the foundation of King’s College and not by Her Majesty’s Government. The I.C.S. recruited its new members by public competition administered by the Civil Service Commission.

From a letter of Miss M.E. Newton, Assistant Librarian, St. Paul’s School, to the Archives, 21 October 1975.

4

EXTRACTS FROM CLASS REPORTS OF ST PAUL’S SCHOOL, LONDON,
1885-1890 [St Paul’s School archives].

REPORT OF CLASS VII FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING Christmas 1885

LATIN AND GREEK.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.GENERAL REMARKS.
[position] 7.
Progress excellent.
[class] VII.
Very steady.
[position] 4=3
Good knowledge of History.
[class] Upper V.
[position] 12
good
A very promising boy; one of the best in history.

REPORT OF CLASS VII FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING July 1886

LATIN AND GREEK.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.GENERAL REMARKS.
[position] 3
Highly satisfactory; composn good
[class] VII
Good.
[position] 3
Very satisfactory
[class] VI
[position] 15
Fair
Is the youngest boy in the Class; gives excellent promise

REPORT OF CLASS M. [middle] 8 FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING December 22nd 1886.

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
great promise -Very promising, esply in Composition -Very satisfactory work & progress.Good: very good EnglishFair. Works well.

REPORT OF CLASS M VIII - FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING July 20th 1887

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
v. fair - but composn still very weak.Very good both in Transln & Compn, especially verse -Works steadily & well. Is improving. -Writes wonderfully good English -Fair.

REPORT OF CLASS U [upper] VIII FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING December 1887

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
deficient in knowledge, but good style - esp. occasionally in verse.Irregular: does extremely good work at times.Very great progress; does not speak very fluently & accurately yet, is working very hard.English often extraordinarily good.Improving.

REPORT OF CLASS U viii FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING July 1888

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
hardly maintains his old level.Takes less pains, I think, than formerly.Still very backward.English good, but too floweryProgress slow.

REPORT OF CLASS U-viii FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING December 21st 1888.

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
fair - but has made little progress.Has long been almost at a standstill, but is making a start again now -Has improved much this term.style remarkably good - fairly well read in EnglishFair, work not altogether satisfactory

REPORT OF CLASS U viii FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING July 31st 1889

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
has done better this term than for some time pastis making real progress after a long stagnation.Fairexcellent style - has read a good deal on some subjects.Fair. Progress very slow.

REPORT OF CLASS U viii FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING Christmas 1889.

LATIN.GREEK OR SCIENCE.FRENCH.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
composition revived.Doing more & better work in every way -Decidedly improved this term.v. good.V. Fair. Has made considerable progress.

REPORT OF CLASS I.C.S. FOR HALF-YEAR ENDING July 1890

LATIN.GREEK.FRENCH & Italian.DIVINITY AND ENGLISH.MATHEMATICS.
GoodGood, Gk composition admirable oftenGood: though on the whole did not work with sufficient energy.Fair; not up to his classical work.Has covered a wide field, but his work always lacked energy & spirit

5

1. Scholarships are awarded at King’s College as the result of examinations which are held at the College. Candidates are not accepted unless they have a good school academic record in examinations.

2. I think the figure of £ 80 can be taken as correct [as the amount of Sri Aurobindo’s scholarship].…5

3. Candidates in Aurobindo’s day applied to the College of their choice and indeed some candidates applied, and took examinations, at other Colleges, which often meant several journeys to Cambridge.

Nowadays Colleges combine and candidates indicate their choice of College or Colleges on their entry form.

4. His studies at King’s would have been under a Supervisor, but he would, most likely, have received instruction from one or more College tutors. He would also have attended University Lectures organised by the Classical Faculty of the University.

5. It is not likely that he would have had instruction from G.W. Prothero who supervised historians (but not Greek history).

6. Praelector.6 An office which entailed submitting all new members of the College for ‘matriculation’, i.e. signing on in the University Senate House which included signifying their acceptance of all University regulations. The Praelector also submitted members for their Degrees.

7. Prothero never was Provost. Leigh was elected in 1889 and followed by M.R. James in 1905.

8. It is normal for students to leave Cambridge on completion of their instruction and on taking their degree.

The I.C.S. is not a University examination, so we have no record of when and where Aurobindo sat the test.

9. Charles Porten Beachcroft7 was admitted to Clare College on 19 March 1890 and matriculated in October 1890. He entered the I.C.S., but did not appear to have read Classics.

From a letter of Donald Loukes, Assistant Librarian, King’s College, Cambridge, to the Archives, 1 October 1975.

6

Sri Aurobindo took the Examination for Scholarships, Exhibitions and Admissions in December 1889. When he came here in 1890 he read for the Classical Tripos, so that I think that he will have taken the Classical papers in the entrance examination. There were five Classical papers: 1. Translation from English verse and prose into Latin verse and prose. 2. Translation from English verse and prose into Greek verse and prose. 3. Translation from Latin verse and prose into English. 4. Translation from Greek verse and prose into English. 5. Questions on Classical grammar and history.

I am sending you separately copies of the question papers which Sri Aurobindo will have taken in December 1889. I am afraid that the College does not keep the answers submitted by candidates, so that we do not have those written by Sri Aurobindo.

As Sri Aurobindo came from St. Paul’s school, he was eligible for the Open scholarships, for which anyone from any school in the country could compete. There were also Eton scholarships, which were available only for boys from Eton, the sister foundation of King’s. As a result of Sri Aurobindo’s performance in the examination, he was elected by the College’s Electors to Fellowships on 19 December 1889 to the first vacant Open Scholarship. This means that, in the examiners’ opinion, he was the best of the candidates for scholarships. He came higher than a very distinguished Kingsman, R.P. Mahaffy, the eminent lawyer.

As a scholar, Sri Aurobindo will have received not only money, but also certain privileges, for example that of wearing a different academic gown from non-scholars. I have been unable to find out exactly what privileges scholars had in 1889; these tend to be a matter of tradition rather than being written down, but might be, for example, a better choice of room, being allowed to reside in College for longer periods, and so on. I think that scholars also had duties, such as to read the Lesson in Chapel, or to read Grace before meals in Hall, but Sri Aurobindo would have been excused from that sort of thing, if he wished, on religious grounds.

From a letter of Dr. Penelope Bulloch, Archivist of 20th century papers, King’s College Library, Cambridge, to the Archives, 27 January 1977.

7

Dr Bulloch suggests that one of the privileges of a scholar might have been to have “a better choice of room.…” In fact there was a long tradition, which continued even into the 1950s, that most scholars when they first arrived should have rooms in the area known as “the drain”. This was not quite so unpleasant as it might sound! The area in question, which was in fact the area where Sri Aurobindo had his rooms, was on an isolated island of King’s College territory “on the other side” of King’s Lane and was reached from the College by a sub-way under the lane, hence the name. I doubt if the inhabitants would have considered that this constituted “a better choice of room”. It was rather a tradition that that was where the scholars lived. The rooms were in fact dilapidated even in Ghose’s day and there were already plans for demolition, though the reconstruction did not in fact take place until 1967.…

Finally, about the Porson reference. Dr Penelope Bulloch has done a lot more research on your behalf. It is evident that Ghose prepared the two “Greek epigrams” which were shown on the photocopy which you sent me8 as alternative answers to a question set in the examination for the Porson Scholarship which was advertised on 7 December 1891 and entailed taking no less than twelve papers in Greek and Latin during the period 8 January to 14 January 1892.

The actual question appeared in the first paper which was taken on 8 January 1892 between 9 a.m. and 12 noon and which required candidates to provide a Greek translation of the following English poem:

The witless boy that blind is to behold
Yet blinded sees what in our fancy lies
With smiling looks and hairs of curled gold
Hath oft entrapped and oft deceived the wise.
No wit can serve his fancy to remove,
For finest wits are soonest thralled to love.

Carlton

We have not identified the Carlton in question nor the precise source of the poem. It is possible that Ghose was a candidate for the Porson Scholarship; alternatively it is possible that his King’s College supervisor set him the Porson Scholarship paper as an exercise to provide practice for the Classical Tripos examination which he was due to take in June 1892.

It would have been rather surprising had Ghose actually competed for the scholarship because if he had won it it would have been worth £ 60 a year and tenable for four years, and, as far as we know, Ghose was planning to leave the University in any case in the summer of 1892 in his capacity as a potential ICS recruit.…

The possibility that at this date Ghose may have been interested in the idea of not joining the ICS is of interest. The holder of the Porson Scholarship was required to spend most of his time in Cambridge but he could supplement his Scholarship stipend by undertaking teaching for Colleges, or perhaps even by obtaining a College Fellowship.

However, as I indicated above, it may be that Ghose simply took the Porson examination papers by way of an exercise.

From a letter of Professor Sir Edmund R. Leach FBA, Provost, King’s College, Cambridge, to the Archives, 12 September 1977.

8

Sri Aurobindo was known as A.A. Ghose when he was here in Cambridge.…9 He was here for two years between 1890 and 1892 when he obtained First Class Honours in Part I of the Classical Tripos.…

Under the regulations for Part I of the Classical Tripos which were in force between 1881 and 1920, the Tripos list was divided into three classes each of which was further sub-divided into three divisions, the names in each division being in alphabetical order. This was the only Tripos in the University in which a class list was presented in this complicated fashion. Ghose (Sri Aurobindo) was evidently one of the two best Classics of his year in King’s College. He and an undergraduate named Churchill both obtained First Class Honours, and in the College Prize list Churchill appears as having won the Richards Prize for Divinity and Classics while Ghose won prizes not only for Greek Iambics but also for Latin Hexameters. I am afraid that the texts which were entered in these competitions have not been preserved.

From a letter of Professor Sir Edmund R. Leach FBA, Provost, King’s College, Cambridge, to the Archives, 21 March 1973.

9

According to the regulations in force in 1892 the examination for Part I of the Classical Tripos should have commenced on the “Monday after the last Sunday but one in May” (which would have been Monday, 23 May in 1892) and continued for six days. The University Almanac for 1891-92 shows the examination as beginning on Saturday May 21st. I imagine that on the Saturday the proceedings were simply a matter of enrolment.

From a letter of Professor Sir Edmund R. Leach FBA, Provost, King’s College, Cambridge, to the Archives, 4 June 1973.

10

On searching the local directories I found that the South Kensington Liberal Association or Club used 42, Hogarth Road for the years 1892-3. The Secretary is listed as James S. Cotton so it seems quite possible that he repeated his earlier hospitality.10 I further found in the voter’s list for 1893 only a reference to a lodger at 42, Hogarth Road, Benoy Bhushan Ghose who occupied one unfurnished room on the top floor at 4/6 per week. Is this one of the brothers? As both directories and voters’ lists would relate to information collected in the previous year the dating11 would be about right.

From a letter of Melvyn Barnes, Borough Librarian and Arts Officer, Central Library, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to the Archives, 23 June 1975.

1 See Plate 2.

2 This address is, of course, not that of Sri Aurobindo’s father, Dr. K.D. Ghose, who was residing at the time in Bengal.

3 The Rev. W.H. Drewett acted as guardian for all three of Dr. K.D. Ghose’s sons from 1879 to 1884, when Drewett emigrated to Australia. It was at this time that Drewett’s mother took the three boys to London and engaged the house at 49, St. Stephen’s Avenue for them and herself.

4 See Document 5.

5 A letter from the Provost, King’s College, 27 September 1977, confirms £ 80 as the amount of Sri Aurobindo’s Open Entrance Scholarship.

6 See note 1, page 87.

7 Sri Aurobindo’s contemporary at Cambridge, who later was Session’s Court Judge at the Alipore Bomb Trial, in which Sri Aurobindo was the chief accused.

8 Reproduced on page 22.

9 “Sri Aurobindo dropped the ‘Ackroyd’ from his name before he left England and never used it again.” (SABCL Vol. 26, p. 2.) Until 1906, however, he signed his name Aravind A. Ghose.

10 Between 1887 and 1889 Sri Aurobindo and his brother Benoybhusan stayed at 128, Cromwell Road, London, then the headquarters of the South Kensington Liberal Club, through the generosity of the Club’s Secretary, Mr. James Cotton. (See pp. 88-89.)

11 I.e. 1892. Sri Aurobindo left King’s College, Cambridge, in October 1892. The last English address given for him in the King’s College Tutor’s Book is 42, Hogarth Road, London. It is likely that he stayed here with Benoybhusan for a short while before finding separate lodgings at 6, Burlington Road, Bayswater. (See Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo [1978], p. 13.)



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