In the fall of 1891, 16-year-old Ed Burroughs entered Phillips
Academy in Andover, MA as a junior middler (sophomore) in the class of
On January 20, 1892 the school paper announced the election of Ed Burroughs
as class president, approximately coincident with his expulsion.
On this day in 1928, Burroughs finally made public his cryptic explanation
for that rather incongruous pair of events decades earlier. In connection
with Phillips Academy’s sesquicentennial celebration that spring, ERB wrote
‘A Horrible Example; or the Man Who Couldn’t Say No’ for the event's commemorative
[To follow his comments in this concluding excerpt, it’s helpful
to know that Lawrence was a nearby textile-mill town and ‘Banty’ was headmaster
“Because I could not stay no one day in Lawrence, Banty concluded that
Andover could wriggle along toward its destiny without me. I feel he was
ill-advised, for if he had kept me there under observation, and learned
what ailed me I might have been taught to say no and a great guitarist
thus saved for humanity, and horrified book reviewers and librarians delivered
from a constantly recurring incitation to murder.
“But he let me go and, years afterward, when something within me told
me to write a book I could not say no. In the matter of writing books I
was as ill-prepared as I had been to play a guitar in the Mandolin Club.
In early youth, before I had studied English grammar, I was taken out of
public school and placed in a private school, the headmaster of which believed
in the active application of the theory of evolution, so he started at
the bottom, with Greek and Latin leading up to English and I left his school
before I had progressed as far as English,and left without knowing much
about Greek or Latin, either. I attended other private schools and had
tutors before I came to Andover, but they all ignored English grammar.
When I came to Andover it was presumed that I had already studied English
grammar, so they started me in on Greek and Latin again.
“So, in casting about for my life’s work and being unable to say no,
I chose that particular line of endeavor for which I was signally ill-equipped.
I am a horrible example and as such present myself to the careful scrutiny
of the young men of Andover in the hope that they may discover in these,
my confessions, a moral for their own guidance.”
A HORRIBLE EXAMPLE; OR THE MAN WHO COULDN’T SAY NO (1928)
Note: scans of the entire booklet are available online at
(Suggested by a Twitter post from @ERBurroughsFan)