Louis Edmund Blaze and Kingswood- Part I

The School in 1920s

The 147th Death Anniversary of L. E. Blaze - the Educationist, Poet, Historian and Founder Principal of Kingswood College Kandy, was commemorated on 27th September 2008 at 5.30 p.m. at the Methodist church Kollupitiya.

This tribute is from a distinguished Old Boy of Kingswood.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Casesar, Mary Antony, in the course of his well known funeral oration on the death by assassination of Julius Caesar, notes that

The evil that men do, lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones...

PICL. E. Blaze

In the case of Louis Edmund Blaze, the man whose life and work we commemorate today, it could indubitably be said that the good that he did in his lifetime is yet with us more than half a century after his death. Hence praising Blaze and his marvellous deeds is both a joyous and easy task. The material on him is plentiful and I was tempted to let Blaze and those who have written of him speak for themselves. I have tried not to resist the temptation!

It is wholesome and not a little humbling, to reflect that our schools of 150 years ago produced more educationists of the first rank than those schools of today which cost the state a fortune to maintain!

Louis Edmund Blaze was one of the original pupils of Trinity College, Kandy, at the time of the founding of the school by Richard Collins for the Church Missionary Society in 1872. Collins did not stay at Trinity for very long but he left the impress of his personality on one who grew up to be one of the most cultivated Ceylonese of his time. Blaze lived to a ripe old age departing this world about eight weeks before his 90th birthday.

Mr. Blaze came from a family background that valued education highly. His grandparents were headmaster and Headmistress of schools in the south. Two of his brothers excelled themselves in the legal profession. John Thomas was a scholar who distinguished himself at Oxford, and he became a law lecturer, editor of a newspaper and wrote some of the best leading articles during the early years of the Ceylon Daily News. Robert Ezekiel was Crown Proctor of Badulla and his son John Robert Blaze became an eminent physician. L. E. Blaze was far and away the most versatile member of his family.

In his nineteenth year, in 1880, the future school principal passed the First Examination in Arts of the Calcutta University which qualified him for appointment as headmaster of the Lower School of Trinity College, Kandy. But the youthful Blaze was still not sure of is vocation in life. He resigned from the post of headmaster to become a law student. His heart was not in the study of the law. He was more interested in literature and in cultivating a talent for writing verse. Perhaps he felt that two lawyers in the family were about enough. He may have been inspired by the example of his grandparents to choose the career for which his gifts and temperament suited him best. From his later endeavours, his writings - these include a text book on history, a book of verse and some notable essays - we can glean the fact that his was an artistic temperament, more suited to pursuits other than the study of the law.

Wearying of this study, which had no real interest for me,

I left for Calcutta in December 1882, to take the BA Examination of the University.

Between 1883 and 1890, Blaze taught for nearly two years in Calcutta first at Bishop’s College and then at St. James’ School. After the initial teaching period, he was Second Master and Acting Headmaster twice, for almost five years at the Boys’ High School in Lahore. During this period he had read widely and had become inspired by the life and work of the great Dr. Arnold of Rugby - the famous headmaster of a famous English Public School. Something of the Rugby School life was suggested to him by what he saw in the school he taught at in Calcutta and Lahore. Blaze tells us that-

Anecdotes of Eaton, Harrow and Winchester which I eagerly read and remembered, revealed much, and their school songs stirred me deeply, as indeed, they stir all youthful souls.

And thus originated his interest in founding a school. Here, let us quote from Blaze:

What disturbed me most in Ceylon schools, and in all other schools known to me, was the strange distance between teacher and pupil, and the needlessly hostile relations that existed between them. It is not now, perhaps, as it used to be; but one has to remember that forty years ago their was a despotism in the schools and not always a benevolent despotism. Ten years work as a schoolmaster convinced me that it was quite possible for a school to be carried on without these hostile or even strained relations between teacher and pupil.

Another thing that I specially disliked was the craze for judging the merits of a school by its examination results and these alone. It was necessary that boys should pass some examinations, but there were many boys who could not, and should yet find a place in the school. Must all boys be judged by their capacity to pass examinations and to take a high place in the lists? A school had much more to do, whether by books, or by its general atmosphere, than to qualify boys for examinations; and the examination list was not the only, or the best, criterion of the worth of a school.

Blaze founded the school of his dreams in 1891 and during its first 60 years - during the lifetime of its founder itself - Kingswood grew to be one of the leading public schools of Ceylon. Blaze was principal for thirty two of the school’s first sixty years.

The school was opened at 11 pavilion Street, Kandy, on the 4th of May 1891 and the name given to it was The Boys’ High School. Blaze tells us that in 1891, Kandy had a population of 23,000 and besides Trinity College there were three other public schools in Kandy. He pays particular tribute to two people - Mr. J. W. Samaraweera and Mr. J. B. Blaze - who helped him in setting up the school. The former for securing the building and the latter for obtaining the furniture.

In an article in the Ceylon Observer of 27th April, 1941 titled "50 years of Kingswood" a journalist has given us an interesting insight into the spirit and ethos of Blaze’s school. The journalist notes that -

A stranger to kandy walking along the streets of the town in the early years of the last war - there were few cars and no buses in those days - would have puckered his forehead on seeing the letters K. F. E. Chalked in large characters at various places. Seeking enlightenment from a native, he would have been told that the letters stood for Kingswood For Ever and that patriotic Kingswood boys blazoned their attachment to their school by scrawling these three letters on walls of public buildings and similar forbidden places, preferably around the warning "stick no bills".

About this time the school celebrated its Silver Jubilee, and was very much in the limelight on account of the doings of its numerous old boys at the front whose letters to the principal contained affectionate references to the alma mater and invariably began and ended with the letters K.F.E., evoking a fervent upstirring of loyalty in the hearts of the younger boys still at school. K.F.E. acquired the significance of almost a mystic symbol amongst them, and outsiders could not forbear a cynical smile to hear Kingswoodians utter the letters on meeting and parting as if they were a masonic password.

There were 11 pupils on the opening day and the school hours were from 10.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. with an interval of half an hour for tiffin.

Mr. W. E. Barber, the Chief Guest at the College Prize giving in 1922 has noted that Kingswood’s earliest playground "was a four foot pavement" and ‘now and then’ the students "ventured into the churchyard." "Pint-sized" was the term used by virtually every journalist to describe our playground at Randles Hill in my schooldays. How fortunate, by contrast, are the coming generations of Kingswoodians once the present extensions and renovations are complete they should have a large enough playground.

Blaze introduced rubgy football as early as in the first year of the school in 1891. This was long before schools like Trinity, Royal or St. Thomas’ took to the game. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that Kingswood should once more be in the forefront of schools rugby today.

Part II continued tomorrow

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