The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, September 1926
When the "Spike" Was Very Young
When the "Spike" Was Very Young
Dear Mr. Editor,—
As one of the Sub-Editors of the first number, I am very proud to be judged worthy to contribute to the fiftieth number of the "Spike." It is a far cry to the days when I read the first proof-sheets and listened to the howls which greeted the name on that famous night when, in the passage-ways of the Wellington Girls' College, the first distribution took place. The critics said that the name was unworthy a University; that our high estate was degraded to the dust; that such a selection could not endure. Some were in deadly earnest, and some said they were. I remember in particular some promising lads from a neighbouring boardinghouse—A. H. Johnstone, A. Tudhope and J. A. Brailsford—who were offensive to a degree. But alas! These prophets! The old "Spike" has knocked up a sound half-century, and is still going strong.
I have no doubt, sir, that you will insist, with whatever authority you have, upon a contribution from the first Editor. His name, of course, is Ostler, J. If there should be any discrepancy between his testimony and mine you will please note that he was appointed to your "chair" because of a certain vogue he had as a raconteur. A course of history under F.P. (or John Beaglehole) is one of the several advantages denied him.
It does not appear that the "Spike" was ever christened, although it appears to have been registered within the prescribed time. If there is any obloquy attaching to the omission the responsibility is joint and several. The meeting of the Editorial Committee at which the name was chosen was held at "Kenilworth" in Hill Street, then the abiding place of the Editor. We were of one mind, that the worst fate which could overtake us was the dullness of conventional respectability, and we were determined that, if we could, by the name, establish a character, that character should lack neither point nor freedom. We hoped—not vainly, I think, that a good point could be kept clear of poison. So the decision was made.
The first number contained the first Capping songs of Victoria College, and amongst them was "The Song of Victoria College." It was to me that Professor Rankine-Brown handed the manuscript of "Aedem Colimus," and I remember the delight the characteristic emphasis with which the author construed the Latin and underlined the points for my edification. This song is but one instance of the generous interest taken by the first professors in the life of the College.
It is to be regretted that the first Editor had, in 1902, no personal experience of "the New Zealand tradition" in regard to Capping songs. As a result of information with which I helped to supply him he wrote several Capping songs, all of them conspicuously subversive of good order and discipline. Possibly they contain the germ of that "Bolshevism" which some recent observers have associated with the College. The famous "Alma Mater" (Solomon Levi) song would have landed the student body in dire disgrace had it not been for a conspicuous instance page 11 of presence of mind on my part. The first three verses dealt comprehensively and unambiguously with foundation professors. In the fourth verse poetic license gave way to wild mendacity (due, of course, to ignorance of tradition and careless instruction), and the Editor ventured upon his disquisition concerning "Two on a library chair." No wonder the Chairman of the Board, Professor John Rankine-Brown, immediately rang up in protest. He approached the subject with great and laudable circumspection. When, at last, I gathered the strength of the charge, I was filled with noble resolve. "But, sir," I said, "the verse to which you refer is in no way a reference to a Professor, it refers, on the contrary, to a student. In point of fact, I am advised, and verily believe, that I myself have an action against the Editor for a very false and malicious libel." I cannot, at this distance of time, remember whether the sound I heard at the other end of the telephone was a chuckle, a sigh, or a fragment of a Latin prayer of thanksgiving. Suffice it to say that the crisis had passed and that, to this day the details of my private vengeance have eluded the vigilance of the newspapers.
Those who take an interest in the "cause of woman" will be not unprepared to know that the woman sub-editor of the first three years, Miss F. Smith, was not least amongst that happy company as a source of inspiration. Through fifty numbers her strong and characteristic humour has held its place, for the years have not improved upon the block headings drawn by her twenty-five years ago. In June, 1926, eight of the nine headings are from her pencil.
I was Editor during 1903 and 1904, and those years are memorable for the discovery first, of Seaforth Mackenzie and, in the latter year, of Siegfried Eichelbaum. In those years was laid the foundation of "The Old Clay Patch," "The Ode on the Laying of the Foundation Stone," published in October, 1904, would have given distinction to any University magazine in the world. On my way to the printer I dropped in at the University Office, where John William Joynt was wont to sit in judgment. Mr. Joynt delighted to bestow his measured praise on the work of promising youngsters, and he did not disappoint me then. The "Ode" was only one of a series of poems which enriched the pages of the "Spike" during its first decade.
How we had to chase Mackenzie for his "copy" But he invariably struck gold. He was gifted with the rare critical faculty which goes with clear and balanced humour. His approval was as final as his condemnation, and his appreciation was unstunted and wholehearted. His delight at the "Slaughterman's Chorus" of "The Golden Calf" clings to my memory. This succulent morsel had, of course, been handed over to Eichelbaum with the final injunction, "Blood, Ike, Blood!"The first verse set such a standard of sanguinity that we feared for the rest. Then came the second verse:—
"From the meadow to the coop, from the shambles to the soup,"
And Seaforth's chortle would have brought joy to the heart of a stone.
The work of Siefried Eichelbaum is so well known to all who take an interest in the College that one is apt to take it for page 12 granted. Eichelbaum is now an old vintage—and a rare one. He is the Master Capping Song writer of New Zealand, "a fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancy." In his verse-making he has kept a level which is truly remarkable. He has a genius for the "inscrutable" word, and he is dogged by constant self-criticism. His more ambitious efforts suggest that, had his critical faculty been entirely free from self-consciousness and he could have trusted himself to be serious, his work would have approached Mackenzie's on the serious plane as it equalled it on the topical. He has served the "Spike" with unflagging loyalty. An Editor with such Subs, as Miss Smith, Mackenzie, and Eichelbaum was fortunate indeed. Across twenty-five years I give them all "good hunting"
I think it may be said that I have read every number of the "Spike" from cover to cover. I may, indeed, have hurried through the C.U. notes and lingered unduly on" Free Discussion." Still, I have two complete sets, and that ought somehow to give me two votes as to the merit of the "Spike" through the years. I venture the opinion that the University has no reason to be ashamed of it. It has maintained a creditable standard, and many times risen to a very high standard, both in prose and verse. It has done more. It has maintained an open forum and has kept its pages open to work of merit even when unconventional and unorthodox were mild words to describe the opinions of its contributors. I can speak with some authority on this matter as I have myself found vent for pent-up feeling in your friendly pages. I am glad to remember that one article I wrote was published despite very serious pressure and that another, though wholeheartedly accepted by the Editor, was withdrawn by myself because, at the instigation of a friend, I agreed to accept an arbitration. There have been years in which one felt that the critical freedom of youth had been superceded by the complaisance of age, but speaking generally, the hopes of the theologically impossible godparents—"who gave it that name"—have been justified. I like to think that the "Spike" has genuinely represented a verile, critical, free-thinking, and intelligent student body.
I was very glad to see in the "Silver Jubilee" number a statement of Professor Rankine-Brown that the "Spike" with all its freedom had, throughout its history, reflected the cordial relations which had existed between the students and the staff. This, no doubt, says a good deal for both sides. It has been found possible to be frank without being offensive and amusing without sacrificing respect. The kindness and consideration, however, which has characterised the relations between those within the gates has not prevented some hard knocks being delivered against the enemy outside. I, myself, find it impossible to regret, even now, two very offensive articles I wrote concerning University politicians who vexed us in the days of the very beginnings. But that is another story.
I see that I was succeeded in the Editorial chair by an abandoned citizen named W. H. Wilson, who still answers to the name of "Spiky." How are the mighty fallen. I now look to this once free spirit for illumination on elementary points of companypage break
Executive of V.U.C. Students' Association, 1926.
Standing: Miss M. E. Cooley, T. G. Hislop, F. S. Hill, W. P. Rollings (Ed. "Spike"), J. H. Dunn (Hon. Sec.), Miss A Stewart.
Sitting: A. H. Ivory (Hon. Treasurer), Miss M. S. Goodwin (Vice-President), R. M. Campbell (president), I. H. Macarthur, (Vice-President), Miss J. L. Moncrieff.
law and he is a mine of information on all sorts of subjects consigned by a far-seeing Providence to the black insides of the Law Reports. It is for him to carry on the story. But can the fellow now soar to the heights once so natural to him. I doubt it.
F. A. De La Mare.