Baden-Powell at age 80

Baden-Powell wrote a number of excellent autobiographical accounts. They include stories of his early life, his career, the founding and the early years of Scouting, and tales of his travels and adventures. Lessons from the Varsity of Life was written in 1933 when B-P was 76 years old. It is his longest autobiographical work. It pulls together many threads in his fascinating and meaningful life. Many later biographical works used "Lessons…" as a major source. This is one of my favorite books by the Founder.

These excerpts have been selected to provide the modern reader with a closer insight into the life and spirit of Baden-Powell in his own words. And, they spin a really good yarn, too. The material is adapted from the first edition. In typical B-P fashion and with due modesty, B-P begins with an introduction entitled "My Apologies."

Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Table of Contents

Introduction. My Apologies
Chapter I. My Education
Chapter II. Art: Acting
Chapter III. Sport
Chapter IV. Spying and Scouting
Chapter V. Soldiering
Chapter VI. Matabeleland
Chapter VII. The South African War
Chapter VIII. The South African Constabulary
Chapter IX. As Inspector-General of Cavalry
Chapter X. Life Number Two–The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
Chapter XI. The War
Chapter XII. Looking Back


"How good is man’s life—the mere living."
—Robert Browning

" This world that we’re a’ livin’ in
Is mighty hard to beat:
Of course there’s thorns in every rose,
But ain’t the roses sweet !"
—Frank L. Stanton

"No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way."

"Always do I recall the parting words uttered by my old governor: ‘ My boy, never . . .’ I won’t set ’em down. I disregarded them fool-like and paid, and paid; had I a son I’d hand ’em on and ram ’em home. What fools we be when young. We fancy we be wise, forgetting that the old boys have graduated in the ‘varsity of the world, the greatest ‘varsity of all, and each day we should learn from they."
—Janes in the Fishing Gazette.

I didn’t want to write this yarn about myself: an autobiography is bound to be an egotistic repetition of "I"; but several different people have asked me to write some of my experiences because they might be helpful to young fellows in aiming their lives.

So it is mainly for these—and I include girls as well as men under the term "fellows" that I write, seeing that I have passed through the ‘varsity of the world above mentioned.

I don’t propose to make it a formal biography beginning with my babyhood and going progressively through the years of my life. It will rather be a sort of hotchpotch or plum pudding, though I am afraid the plums will be few and you will have to pick them out for yourself from the stodge.


Mind you, I have had in my sojourn on earth as good a time of it as any man, so I can speak with some knowledge. A writer in the Manchester Guardian who is unknown to me lately described me as "the richest man in the world." That sounds a pretty big order, but when I come to think it out I believe he is not far wrong.A rich man is not necessarily a man with a whole pot of money but a man who is really happy. And I am that.

I have he own lots of millionaires who were not happy men; they had not got all they wanted and therefore had failed to find success in life. A Singalese proverb says: "He who is happy is rich, but it does not follow that he who is rich is happy." The really rich man is the man who has fewest wants.

Almost any biography will have its useful suggestions for making life a success, but none better or more unfailing than the biography of Christ.

If you have read Rovering to Success you will have realized that my idea of success in life is Happiness. Happiness, as Sir Henry Newbolt says, is largely gained by "Happifying."

A thing that many young fellows don’t seem to realism at first is that success depends on oneself and not on a kindly fate, nor on the interest of powerful friends.

I have over and over again explained that the purpose of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Movement is to build men and women as citizens endowed with the three H’s namely, Health, Happiness and Helpfulness. The man or woman who succeeds in developing these three attributes has secured the main steps to success this Life.

Yet one more item is needed to complete success, and that is the rendering of service to others in the community. Without this the mere satisfaction of selfish desire does not reach the top notch.


Another excuse for my venturing to write is that I have had the rather unique experience of having in my time lived a double life.

I don’t mean exactly what you would infer from this!

Life Number One. No, I mean that I first started out in life, after leaving school, as a young officer in the Army, and, by extraordinary luck coupled with an unaccountable love for my work, I gained rapid promotion through all the successive ranks.

There was in this life the romance of seeing strange Lands at my country’s expense, through serving successively in India, Afghanistan, South Africa, West Africa, and Egypt. There was the campaigning the sport, and the comradeships; there were hardships and sicknesses and partings, the shadows which enabled one the better to appreciate the sunshine.

Life No. 1 and Life No. 2. Linked by Scouting.

Big jobs as well as little fell to my lot; as Adjutant, as Squadron Commander, and finally as Colonel commanding my Regiment, I had in turn what I thought the most enjoyable bits of responsibility that could fall to any man, and in which I was in close touch with my men.

But bigger jobs came to me, of which I will tell in a later chapter, such as, for instance, raising a contingent of native scouts for the Ashanti expedition, acting as Chief Staff Officer in the campaign in Matabeleland, commanding that grand lot of men and women who held Mafeking in the Boer War, and, biggest of all, organizing the South African Constabulary for the settlement of that country after the campaign.

Eventually, I reached the top of the tree in my branch of the Service as Inspector-General of Cavalry, with its inspiring opportunities of preparing our horsemen for the Great War when it came.

Thus, at the comparatively early age of forty-two I found myself a Major-General, and at fifty-three, after marvelous run of luck, I had completed my career as soldier and retired on a pension.

Life Number Two. Then I started on life Number Two, beginning an altogether new life, one on an entirely different plane, but, like Number One, it includes Scouting.

I married her who was to be my right hand in bringing up, not only our own children, but the vast family of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides which then came into being.

We have enjoyed the extraordinary experience of seeing this Movement grow from the tiny acorn of twenty-Eve boys encamped on Brownsea Island into a Brotherhood and Sisterhood which embraces almost every country in the world, with a census, this year, of two million, nine hundred thousand.

Well, that is the brief outline of my life. I quote it just as a summary so that you may see the general line which this book will take in dealing with some of its details.

Table of Contents

Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter I: My Education
link-bp-varsity02.jpg (2324 bytes) Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter II: Art: Acting
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Boatsmanship and Fishing
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Shooting, Fox-Hunting and Polo
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Big Game, Hippos and Lions
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Pets, Stalking, Mountaineering and the School of the Jungle
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter IV: Spying and Scouting
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V: Soldiering
Early Days in India
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V: Soldiering
Zululand, 1896
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V:Soldiering
With a Native Levy in Ashanti
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VI: Matabeleland
The Second Matabele Campaign
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VI: Matabeleland
In India with the Fifth Dragoon Guards
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VII:The South African War
Mission to South Africa
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VII:The South African War
Mafeking: Defense and Relief
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VIII:The South African Constabulary
link-bp-ig.jpg (4065 bytes) Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter IX:As Inspector-General of Cavalry
bp-thumb-bs&gg2.jpg (2297 bytes) Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter X: The Boy Scouts & Girl Guides
link-bp-varsity11.jpg (2428 bytes) Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter XI: The War
and Chapter XII: Looking Back

The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career. Text Only Index
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Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1998
Last Modified: 6:00 AM on March 14, 1998