Paradigm, No 3 (July, 1990)





The seat of learning depicted in this drawing, which dates from c.1802, belongs to the early 19th-century tradition of caricature. A fine but less ornate chair belonging to Busby is preserved in Westminster School, where he was headmaster for over 50 years from 1638, and where Dryden and Locke were among his pupils. Busby became known as the type of the flogging classical headmaster, whose reputation survived both his death in 1695 and the eclipse of Westminster as England's leading school by Eton in the 18th century. The satirical reference to the bishop's mitre reflects the common use of classical scholarship as a road to ecclesiastical preferment in the early-19th century. Trollope referred in his Clergymen of the Church of England [1866] to the bygone class of aspirants to bishoprics typified by 'the editor of the Greek play, whose ladder was generally an acquaintance with Greek punctuation. [CS]

What follows is an anonymous squib (dated 1802 by a copy in Westminster School but not otherwise known), which explains the allusions in Sedes Busbiana 'for the benefit of country gentlemen', and presumable anyone else who did not aspire to the author's recondite learning. We offer it for its own sake, and as a further small token of thanks for our being allowed to hold our third colloquium in Dr. Busby's Library. [CS/JW]




This Chair, on which are humorously personified the component parts of Grammar, was with great propriety presented to the first scholar, and first school-master of his age.

The difficulties of Grammar, so well known to every learner, are legibly visible in the sour countenance of the head.

Beneath we see a noun substantive, which, in the language of Grammar, is said "to stand alone, and requires not another word to be joined with it to shew its signification". The independence of the character is happily expressed in the figure, whose countenance and gesture both declare him self-satisfied, and self-sufficient.

On the opposite side is a noun adjective, which "cannot stand alone; but requires to be joined with a substantive", admirably represented by a meagre figure, tottering for support towards the substantive, and seeming to exclaim, "He is the independent substantive -- I the scurvy adjective!" (Pratt's Lib. Opinions, Letter 82d.)

In the middle is the portrait of the great Dr. Busby, or any Doctor you please, looking up to a mitre, as the reward of his labours, and piously ejaculating his "hopes" (spero). It is well known that the Doctor thought the only "ars logica", or "art of right reasoning", was a due application of birch: And the sound of the rod, with the sounds which it drew forth, was to him the only "ars musica", the "music of the spheres"! Spare the rod, and spoil the child," he could prove upon the authority of Solomon: He chose, therefore, the rod -- (observe the back-ground) as an emblem of victory over idleness, and for his motto, "In hoc signo vinces," i. e. "By the rod you will conquer:" Though, from the cast of the eyes upwards, some interpret these words as having a higher meaning. -- Words which the classical scholar will remember, were first adopted by the Emperor Constantine, on a very different occasion.-- See the Roman History.

Verbs are said to be active, passive, and neuter; represented 1st, by a Drawcansir of a figure, attacking with all his might and main the posteriors of the 2nd, or passive figure, who bears it all with the only reproach of patience. The 3rd figure is neuter:perfectly indifferent about the scene before him, as long as he is unmolested, and therefore sits neuter, well remembering the old rhyme,

"They who in quarrels interpose,
"Will often wipe a bloody nose."

Syntax, Orthography, Prosody, and Etymology, are the four principal parts of Grammar, represented by four expressive countenances; all of which it is supposed were well known portraits in their day. It is scarcely necessary to observe how appositely the character of each is delineated in the features: Orthography, which relates to right spelling, determined that no syllable shall escape him, has assumed his spectacles. Etymology, "which regards the derivation of words," is literally "emunctoe naris homo," a man of acute penetration! Syntax and Prosody are both equally characteristic.

Sedes, ecce tibi! quae tot produxit alumnos,
Quot gremio nutrit Granta, quot Isis habet.

Behold the seat! whence all the LEARNING grew,
Which ISIS boasts, or GRANTA holds in view.


Translated and explained for the benefit of County Gentlemen.



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