The Story of the Motto and the Seal of Milton Academy
By Markham W. Stackpole, faculty 1923–1938
The motto of Milton Academy consists of four common, one-syllable Anglo-Saxon words in perfect balance. It has been called the best of all school mottoes. It is quickly noticed, easily understood and remembered, and impressive in its meaning. We like to think that those four short words represent the straightforwardness which the School stands for. They have had an effect upon students and graduates that cannot be measured.
The motto and the seal which bears it do not go back to the founding of Milton Academy one hundred and forty-five years ago. In the Orange and Blue for December 18, 1895, there appeared this item: “It has been recently discovered that the School is entitled by law to have a seal, and Mr. Apthorp (the Headmaster) wishes to receive suggestions for a motto and design from outsiders as well as from scholars.” In the issue of the same paper for May 13, 1896, however, only the following comment was made: “As yet only one design such as is wanted has been brought before the Faculty. We hope that all those interested in the School will either make a design, or think of some motto, and send one or both to Mr. Apthorp.” Yet even six months later, very few designs worth consideration had been received. Another appeal was therefore presented to boys and their parents. “There are very few incorporated schools,” said the request, “which do not have a seal, and there is no reason why we should not have one also.” The Headmaster was away, however, from December, 1896, till the end of that school year, and it seems, indeed, that nothing very definite was done about a seal or a motto until two years had passed from the time of the first general request for suggestions.
In November, 1897, some humorous proposals were printed in the School monthly: “In case of doubt, always guess.” “Never laugh unless the master does.” “It’s never too late to get out of a fix.” “Nullus sine causa,” with some device representing a boy meekly receiving a mark of discipline.
At that time (November, 1897) the editors of the Orange and Blue wanted a cover design and were hoping that the Trustees would adopt some emblem that could be used for that purpose. Then, during the next month, Mr. Apthorp received a letter from Mr. G. H. Robinson of the Gorham Company of New York, manufacturers of metal work, in which letter Mr. Robinson offered to have a design for a seal prepared and to present it to the School. A son of Mr. Robinson was a member of the Sixth Class. The request of Mr. Robinson for a motto to be used upon the seal apparently hastened a decision.
For five years Mr. James H. Lee, a former Espicopal clergyman, had been one of the Academy masters. In addition to his great interest in the sciences, Mr. Lee had wide knowledge of the Latin and Greek classics and of English literature. As a deeply religious man, he was very fond of the devotional and ethical poetry of the Englishman, George Herbert, a saintly scholar and country clergyman who was a contemporary of John Milton in the very early years of the latter’s poetical career more than three centuries ago. A good many lines from Herbert’s poems are now among our familiar quotations. One of the hymns in our chapel collection has two stanzas from a Herbert poem, one of them, however, being somewhat changed. A third stanza of the hymn expresses the thought of still another stanza of the poem.
George Herbert’s principal poetical work was a long series of poems called “The Temple.” The first one is entitled “The Church Porch” and contains the following stanza:
“Lie not: but let thy heart be true to God,
Thy mouth to it, thy actions to them both:
Cowards tell lies, and those that fear the rod;
The stormy working soul spits lies and froth.
Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie:
A fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby.”
For us the meaning of those words “Dare To Be True” goes beyond truthfulness in intent, speech, and action, vastly important as that is, and includes the three great principles of courage, truthfulness, and loyalty.
Mr. Lane, for many years a teacher in the School, and later Headmaster, recalls Mr. Lee’s admiration for George Herbert’s poetry; and after Mr. Lee’s death his Herbert volumes were presented to Mr. Lane who now has them as a treasured memorial of this friend and colleague. Mr. Lane remembers that Mr. Lee often quoted Herbert’s poetry and thinks that it was he who suggested to Mr. Apthorp the words “Dare To Be True” for our School motto.
The suggestion obviously met with Mr. Apthorp’s approval, for on January 18, 1898, he submitted and explained the proposed motto to the members of the School and read to them a part of the poem in which it appears. The boys voted to accept the motto and to recommend it to the Trustees for adoption. Official action evidently followed quickly, for about a week after the boys had voted, Mr. Apthorp sent the motto to Mr. Robinson of New York who warmly commended the choice. Mr. Robinson then sent tentative designs for the seal and for a shield or escutcheon in colors. It appears that the details were then carefully studied, with the assistance of an expert, and that there were explanations and discussions. During the next few months Mr. Robinson had the final design for the seal completed with the name circle, the shield, the open book, and the motto on the pages of the book.
In April, 1898, he presented to the School a large drawing of the seal, a plate, an imprint, and also an impression in accordance with which a die could be cut for use in printing. A large electrotype print from the Gorham Company is preserved in one of Mrs. Apthorp’s old scrap books. In that same April of 1898, in one of the pages of the Orange and Blue, grateful acknowledgement was made to Mr. Robinson, to Mr. William S. Appleton, an expert adviser in heraldry, and to Mr. Apthorp.
In June, 1898, shortly before the first Graduate’s Day, Mr. Robinson sent as another gift to the School the large oaken shield on which is a smaller shield in the two school colors of orange and blue and on the smaller shield the white pages of an open book with the four words of the motto. That valued emblem has long hung above the main desk at the front of the large study hall. There are similar emblems in the study room of Warren Hall, in the study hall of the Girls’ School, and in the Thacher Room.
It is significant that the seal and the motto should have been adopted in the year that marked the centennial of the incorporation of Milton Academy. That fact explains why the Roman figures for 1898 are at the bottom of the circle, while 1798, as the year of the founding, appears in Arabic figures above the shield. The centennial celebration occurred on December 7, 1898, and the centennial issue of the Orange and Blue bore the seal on its cover, with the shield in the school colors. In Mr. Apthorp’s address on the centennial day, he spoke of the important place of English in the school curriculum and called attention to the new school motto as a quotation from an English author, George Herbert.
It is hardly necessary, in this story of our motto, to mention again the impression which it has made upon students, alumni, teachers, and friends of Milton Academy, for its influence is constantly felt. Long ago an undergraduate well expressed that widespread feeling when, in a poem, he referred to “The thought we love, the words we love to see,
“Dare to Be True.”