With Lord Randolph’s illness in a remission stage, he was active in the campaign against dual control of the Conservative Party by Salisbury in the Lords and Northcote in the Commons. In December he rested on the Riviera and in Algiers. Jennie remained in London, having contacted what was eventually diagnosed as typhoid.
Winston, meanwhile, had been enrolled in St. George’s School at Ascot. Although he wrote his parents that “I am very happy at school,” he later recalled (in MY EARLY LIFE, Woods A37) “how I hated this school.” He certainly made little progress. In his first term report in December he placed last in his class. His parents were informed that Winston was “a regular pickle” who must treat his work far more seriously.
This unhappy period was presaged by Winston’s rather unpleasant experience the first day he met his Form Master. He was asked to learn the declensions of mensa, the Latin word for “table.” When he had the temerity to ask the meaning and use of the vocative case, he was told he would use it when addressing a table. “But I never do,” he replied. He was then sternly informed: “If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely.”
Thus began what he called a “hateful servitude” and a distaste for the classics “from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit.” Winston clearly did not enjoy this experience. Seeing no reason to ever use strange tongues, he never learned to write a Latin verse. Nor did he accomplish any Greek, except for the alphabet. He was deemed a very naughty boy, and was among the school leaders only in receiving birchings. At St. George’s, these were administered with a harshness that was singular – even for the Victorian Age.