The Spectator

A motto to live by

A motto to live by
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'I will try my utmost' promised Gordon Brown on the steps of 10 Downing Street yesterday, quoting his old school motto. They’re funny things, school mottoes. Single sex schools tend to fall into different camps – boys’ tending towards the bellicose (Sons of Heroes / Wellington School) or self-aggrandising (Floreat Etona / David Cameron’s Eton College), while girls’ are more humbly aspirational (Our daughters shall be as the polished corners of the temple / Frances Holland). Do any other public figures live their lives today under the influence of their old school mottoes? Tony Blair’s from Fettes was simply ‘Industria’ and Menzies Campbell at Hillhead High, Glasgow had ‘We will maintain’. Will Harriet Harman find St Paul’s ‘Fide et literis / ‘by faith and by learning’ helpful? Is Jeremy Paxman mindful of Malvern College’s opinion that ‘Sapiens qui prospicit’ / Wise is he who looks ahead?

Family mottoes are not necessarily either helpful or illuminating. The Prince of Wales’s laudable and self-effacing motto, Ich dien, is – a little confusingly – in German. Browns, even Gordon, can hardly wring much comfort from the bleak Deus pacit corvos / God feeds the ravens. And I’m not convinced that Joanna Lumley has, over the years, been able to derive inexhaustible supplies of strength and support from, or indeed found many practical applications for, the fierce but possibly over-protective exhortation of her ancestors to ‘Touch not the catte bot a glove’ ...

Is there a school motto that the Spectator might adopt? Alice Ottley School could offer ‘Candida rectaque’ / ‘Be fair and straight’ but I’d back the bracing and unequivocal brevity of Queen Elizabeth Grammar’s ‘’Turpe nescire’ / ‘Ignorance is a disgrace’.