Imagine my surprise while idly soaking up a rather interesting programme on television about the English monarchy when I learned that King Charles II’s motto was Dum Spiro Spero – While I breathe, I hope. Shakespeare is said to have written the very same motto on his first published manuscripts.
It has been the motto of Fairfield College, Hamilton, since its founding in the late fifties. Not that it served an obvious purpose, for it was seldom used but it was always featured on the rather pleasant Crest that accompanied it. Nowadays the Fairfield’s crest has three mottos, to use the technical term, reflecting its multicultural commitment.
Now when my brother and I were at Fairfield College, the notion that we would have hope if we had breath seemed quite reasonable and on a bad day quite reassuring. But it was not that we did not have experience with mottos, no, not at all, for we had been to primary school and to intermediate school.
We had breezed our way through primary school not really engaging with the motto of Frankton Primary School, “To thine own self be true.” This was largely because the notion that we would tell lies to ourselves took some understanding and, anyway, it was never actually mentioned. However, some years later, good old Polonius popped up in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when giving advice to his son Laertes to suggest that it was a good thing to do.
But the ability to grapple with a good motto came along when we attended Maeroa Intermediate School in Hamilton, a new school opened in 1956, which was determined to take part in the habit of reflecting the well proven habits of motto-making and our origins of such clarion call to be virtuous.
Each day we would cycle to school wearing caps that bore the crest and the motto – “I shall not cease from mental fight.” This is as you Dear Reader, will know that this a line from William Blake’s rousing song, Jerusalem. This relatively modern school explains that “we have a proud tradition built up over the past fifty-six years and our motto, ‘I will not cease from mental fight’ represents our belief in developing students who will be life-long learners.” This is one explanation, but William Blake might not have had the weapons and tools of modern education in mind – a device, sports, teachers working hard and students engaged. No, he had different ideas of how it would be done: the bow of burning gold, the arrows of desire, the sword that is wide awake in his hand and above all, The Chariot of Fire! But be at rest, the crests on our caps showed each of these critical elements, the tools required to affect a better, more pleasant world replacing the dark satanic mills, a green and pleasant world, something like Jerusalem and England would be green and pleasant again.
No wonder we sang our little heads off with gusto when we sang Jerusalem at the last assembly each year. At last, a motto with gravitas.