1 NOVEMBER 1930, Page 10

General Papers

[We asked a distinguished member of the teaching profession, renowned for the excellence of the General Papers which he sets, to write down his views on the task with which he is so familiar.]

WHAT is a General Paper ? There are two varieties which differ both in method and in object. The first consists of those which are set in examinations for college scholarships. They contain a list of subjects, from which candidates are invited to select a few, on which they may descant at length. The object is to find out in what direction their interests turn, on what they are inclined to specialize, and what use they have already made of their chosen study—all points which may affect the direction of their university career. Such papers are of value in examiners' eyes, as revealing more of a candidate's mind and character than the translation and composition papers, where so much may depend on the set pieces suiting or not suiting a candidate's acquirements and tastes.

It may be said at once that such papers arc not the subject of this article. The second variety is very different. It is set, not to selected candidates, but to whole schools. It is not limited to one subject or class of subject. It is " de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis." Its numerous questions can be answered in a word or two, and its object is not to find out what its readers know, but to suggest to them all sorts of things which they do not, but might reasonably be expected to know or to find out. In a word, stimulus.

Here we may digress for a moment. Who are the people who find life dull ?—who arc most often bored ? Are they not the men of one subject only? Probably nearly everyone has some chief interest, about which he knows much ; but the man who finds life interesting is the man who knows something about everything as well. He will not be bored. In modern schools specializing begins all too soon; Classical and Modern separate and lose touch ; even in lower forms the time-tables are drawn so closely that boys have little time for outside interests. Even if they read the daily papers, they seldom get beyond the sports pages. Now, a good General Paper does something to cure this.

And, further, English literature and the English language are full of allusions and metaphors. To miss them is to miss the point. Our fondness for initials —we once picked forty groups from a front page of the Times—leads to much obscurity. And there are worse things—confusions, misquotations, mispronunciations, fallacies, mis-spellings, and all the enormities which Mr. Fowler pillories in Modern English Usage. A good General Paper can draw attention to some of these.

Some papers of this character are before us as we write. They are composed of groups, somewhat similar to the Spectator's weekly " Thirteens," but shorter and easier ; they touch on politics, last year's obituary, Bible reading, literature, classics, geography (English

and Empire), music, science, as well as many of the subjects hinted at above. There are over two hundred items to answer in each paper.

We quote first a question on initials, another on Shakespeare, and a third on literature :

Explain the initials, writing down each group as you do so : The P.R.A. wrote c/o G.H.Q., but his note went into the W.P.B., for the G.S.O. III who opened it only recognized R.F.A. and R.G.A., and the note did not seem to concern them. An inquisitive clerk picked it out, marked it R.D. like a cheque and reposted it c/o G.P.O., London. This, never at a loss, marked it ` Try N.S.P.C.C.' It visited R.S.P.C.A., L.C.C., S.P.C.K., R.T.S. and R.W.S., and then reached the D.L.O.

What are Shakespeare's answers to the following questions ? Name the play (a) And what's her history ?

(b) What shall he have that killed the deer ?

(c) How now, you secret black and midnight hags, what is't you do ?

(d) What ! Is Horatio there ?

(e) What treasure, Uncle ?

Who imagined these countries : (a) Erewhon, (6) Utopia, (c) Atlantis, (d) Weissnichtwo, (e) Nephelococcygia ?

The next is for the benefit of younger boys :

In ballads and similar verse, name the persons alluded to :

(a) " And he was left lamenting."

(b) " She never wanted a good word— From those who spoke her praise." (e) " First, if you please, my thousand guilders."

(d) " There was Mary Seaton and Mary Beaton And Mary Carmichael and me."

(e) " And when he next doth ride abroad May be there to see ! " Express by a metaphorical phrase :

(a) Biblical : working without proper materials.

(b) Proverbial : trying to make articles of value out of worthless matter.

(c) Shakespearean : spoiling beautiful things by trying to add to their beauty.

(d) Aquatic in desperate situations anything seems a chance of escape.

(e) Marine : false economy ruins costly efforts.

The last of 'these was for everybody. It produced a couple of amusing suggestions ; for (b) " making mountains out of molehills," and for (c) " picnic parties on the Downs " ! A series of simple astronomy questions —the circumpolar constellations and the planets—was almost prophetic in view of the recent exciting discovery of the anonymous body beyond Neptune, but it revealed a widespread confusion about Ursa Major. His many sobriquets multiplied him and gave him the Plough and the Dipper for his opposite neighbours across the Pole. The carillon in Hyde Park suggested a series of questions on bells and bell-ringing. The next is a protest against some terribly common mispronunciations : How many syllables have these words : (a) real, (5) ideal, (c) rearisen, (d) rereward (s.v.), (e) epitome, (f) palindrome, (g) Beatrice (Italian), (h) Timotheus (1) in Dryden, (2) elsewhere, (i) Urbane (A.v.), (j) Here (A.v.).

The next contains a mixture of technical terms and modern slang :

What are : an aftermath, a quorum, a charter-party, gate. crashers, bootleggers, a blurb, "flickers," a "roofer," a lotus-eater, flettons ?

and to conclude, a genuine instance of economical advertising :

Expand the following contractions in the advertisement of a boarding-house : Exc. cookg., bkft. opt. lib. (or sep.) tab., perl. sup., best pos. fac. sea, e. 1., b. h. and c.

Clearly such General Papers supply a " felt want." They set minds moving and turn all ages to inquiry in all directions. They perform in a different way the office of the universally popular crossword puzzles, to which even the Times and the Oxford Magazine have condescended. They ask their readers to verify their quotations, correct their misunderstandings, and clarify their ideas.

We may add that the originator of what is now a wide- spread practice is still alive in the person of the venerable President of St. John's College, Oxford, Honour to