Anybody without the least notion of drawing could still draw a speaking, nay scolding, likeness of Keate. If you had no pencil, you could draw him well enough with a poker, or the leg of a chair, or the smoke of a candle. He was little more (if more at all) than five feet in height, and was not very great in girth, but in this space was concentrated the pluck of ten battalions. He had a really noble voice, which he could modulate with great skill, but he had also the power of quacking like an angry duck, and he almost always adopted this mode of communication in order to inspire respect. He was a capital scholar, but his ingenuous learning had not “softened his manners” and had “permitted them to be fierce”—tremendously fierce; he had the most complete command over his temper—I mean over his good temper, which he scarcely ever allowed to appear: you could not put him out of humour—that is, out of the ill-humour which he thought to be fitting for a head-master. His red shaggy eyebrows were so prominent, that he habitually used them as arms and hands for the purpose of pointing out any object towards which he wished to direct attention; the rest of his features were equally striking in their way, and were all and all his own; he wore a fancy dress partly resembling the costume of Napoleon, and partly that of a widow-woman. I could not by any possibility have named anybody more decidedly differing in appearance from the rest of the human race.(A couple of assistants to a Cairo magician are about to try and fail to describe Keate's appearance.)
I was not, then, surprised to notice in Hugh Jenkins's biography of Gladstone a mention of "Keate, the famous flogging headmaster."
But the other day, looking into Centuries of Childhood, I noticed the passage
It is said that Keates , the headmaster of Eton at the beginning of the nineteenth century, mixed up his lists one flogging day, and whipped the boys who turned up for Holy Communion.That argues a certain inattention, if true. Yet the "it is said" makes one wary: clearly Keate was the sort to inspire legends.