During the nineteenth century it became fashionable for the great public schools to adopt a school song of their own, with the result that today at Winchester they sing ‘Dulce Domum’, at Rugby ‘Floreat Rugbeia’ (1867), at Harrow ‘Forty Years On’ (1872), and at Eton ‘Carmen Etonense’ (1877), although some may think Eton’s school song should be the ‘Eton Boating Song’ (1863).
Sherborne School did not acquire its own school song until 1887 when Headmaster Edward Mallet Young wrote the words (in Latin) of ‘Carmen Saeculare’ also known as ‘Carmen Shirburniense’. Young was educated at Eton and had worked as an Assistant Master at Harrow (1865-1878) so was well aware of the tradition of the school song. During his tenure as Headmaster at Sherborne (1878-1892), Young strove ‘to make Sherborne a school of the very first rank’, and as such it must have its own school song.
1887 was a significant year for both the monarchy and Sherborne School. In June 1887 the Empire celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. To commemorate this event the School commissioned from Clayton & Bell a stained glass window for the south end of the Upper Library depicting the granting by Edward VI in 1550 of the School’s founding charter.
That same month, at the Commemoration Day concert held on 30 June 1887, the School Musical Society performed for the first time all five verses of Young’s ‘Carmen Saeculare’, set to music by the School’s Director of Music, Louis Napoleon Parker. And so the tradition began.
Today, the first and last verses only of Young’s poem are sung by the School. The rousing last line of each verse, ‘Vivat Rex Eduardus Sextus’ or ‘Long Live King Edward the Sixth’, commemorates the School’s Royal foundation and is taken directly from the original Governors’ Seal of 1550, known more commonly as the ‘Sherborne Penny’.
The Composer: Louis Napoleon Parker (1852-1944)
Louis Napoleon Parker was born in 1852 at Luc-sur-Mer in Calvados, France to an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Moray, and an American, Charles Albert Parker, and spent his childhood in several European countries; his first language was Italian, and he spoke, read and wrote in at least French and German as well.
Parker attended the Royal Academy of Music, then under the direction of William Sterndale Bennett, and in 1873 Bennett sent Parker to Sherborne School to help his son, James Robert Sterndale Bennett, with the teaching of music. Although Parker’s initial contract was for only a few weeks he remained teaching at the School for 19 years, during which time he composed three cantatas and over sixteen of the School songs.
After leaving Sherborne, Parker turned to London and to the theatre. He already had some experience as a playwright and also as a translator of European drama; his 1889 edition of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm had helped to introduce Ibsen to the English-speaking world. Parker’s own plays were very successfully and many were staged by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre.
In 1905, Parker returned to Sherborne and created his first historical pageant. The Sherborne Pageant was such a success that over the next five years Parker went on to stage pageants for Warwick, Bury St. Edmunds, Colchester, York, and Dover. In later years he wrote a screenplay for the ‘talkies’ and one of his plays was made into a film. He died at Bishopsteignton in Devon on 21 September 1944.
Parker is commemorated in Sherborne’s Pageant Gardens for his role as ‘Master of the Pageant’ and also on a memorial brass in the School Chapel as ‘Composer of the Carmen and many School songs’.
The Poet: Edward Mallet Young (1839-1900)
Edward Mallet Young was born in 1839 at Cookham in Berkshire, the second son of Captain Sir George Young, Bart, RN, and Susan Mackworth-Praed. He was educated at Eton and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. A talented classicist, in 1860 Young won the Browne medal at Cambridge for a Latin ode on the fate of Captain Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic, and in 1863 he was seventh in the first class of classical tripos. He was made a Fellow of Trinity College in 1865.
From 1864 to 1878 Young was employed as an Assistant Master at Harrow, where he is credited with introducing the game of Fives and, in 1878, he was appointed Headmaster of Sherborne School. One of Young’s first innovations at Sherborne was the institution in 1878 of Commemoration Day (Commem), a tradition which still takes place today. He was also keen to develop music at the School, fostering a school orchestra, installing an organ and gallery in the BSR (1884), writing the words for the School song ‘Carmen Saeculare’ (1887), and compiling a special Sherborne hymn book which remained in use for over 30 years. Like his predecessor H.D. Harper, Young was a great builder and renovator and under his headmastership the School gained the West Cloister joining the School chapel with the BSR (1879), a new library in the former schoolroom (1880), a north chancel aisle in the chapel (1881), four classrooms and a lobby to the north of the BSR (1883), a gymnasium (1885), and a sanatorium (1887).
Unfortunately, the last few years of Young’s headmastership were marred by a libel action brought against him by a former assistant master, which resulted in a drastic fall in the number of pupils and in 1892 Young was forced to resign. After a brief retirement in Warminster, Young was in 1894 appointed Rector of Rothbury in Northumbria, and in 1897 was made an Honorary Canon of Newcastle. Young died on 19 December 1900 at Coolings Hotel in Albemarle Street, London, where he had gone to undergo special treatment for asthma. He was buried on 22 December 1900 in All Saints churchyard at Rothbury.
Unlike other former Headmasters, there is no portrait of Young in the Old School Room and no boarding house is named after him, but his family crest can be seen in one of the windows of the Old School Room and the land he bequeathed to the School adjoining the Upper was named after him. Perhaps the most touching memorials to Young are the two stained glass windows (designed by Clayton & Bell) in the south aisle of the School chapel: one celebrating Young’s marriage in 1882 to Augusta Melita Stephenson and the other installed by masters at the School as a memorial after his death.
For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.
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- Carmen Saeculare, sung by the boys of Sherborne School (mp3)
- Carmen Saeculare (words by E.M. Young) from Twelve Songs of Sherborne School (jpg)