Obrázky na stránke
[ocr errors]

MY SCHOOL-DAYS FROM 1830 to 1840.

IT is natural that one who has devoted by far the largest portion of his life, since he grew to manhood, to various forms of educational work, should be invited frequently to speak, and occasionally to write, on educational questions. I have borne from time to time a part in such addresses and discussions, but it is impossible for any one at all familiar with even a portion of what has been said and written on this important subject not to feel at times that every foot of ground had been fought over, every question debated; and that it is difficult to say anything which has not been previously said, and well said, by others. It has, however, occurred to me that it is still possible to contribute something that may prove to be of some educational value, if I venture to take a new departure, and adopt the form of narrative rather than of discussion. Shall I do wrong, I have asked myself, if I attempt to interest readers of the present generation in some of the more remote experiences of one who was singularly favoured in being permitted to pass in the voyage of early life through what I may venture to call, as I now look back on them, zones of educational influences of very marked and characteristic types? There may, it seems possible, be some who will willingly compare these impressions of an educational generation that has long passed away with some of the prevailing ideas and practices which we find around us, separated as these are from the time of which I shall speak first by an interval of more than half a century. Mere narrative may sometimes, as we all know, prove not the least useful mode of suggesting thought. But I shall not profess to confine myself to mere narrative. In our great national allegory the Interpreter had his place as well as the Pilgrim. Only in this case the Pilgrim and the Interpreter must be represented by the same person at two very distant periods of the same human life.

I will at once, then, ask my readers to take their places with me as a very young boy at a preparatory school in a watering place on the South Coast, which, once famous as the sea-side residence of King George the Fourth, is now the almost suburban resort of thousands of Londoners. It was long ago, that time! I remember one


Sunday morning, as we little boys came home two and two from church, hearing a gentleman on the pavement at Brighton say to his friend, The streets of Paris, they say, are swimming with blood." The words impressed me greatly; it was the first time I had heard the phrase, and the image which it called up was, I need hardly say, not that of the three glorious days of July,' to which I presume it referred, but one ghastly in the extreme; and I venture to record, with a certain soreness with which some, I hope, will sympathise, that no effort was made to satisfy or guide, or to do anything but repress, our natural curiosity on the subject. Accustomed as some of us had been at our homes to take, if a childish, yet a very real interest in the great events of the world around us, at my first school all such subjects seemed carefully kept from us, and the rumours of European convulsions and of riots in Western England only reached us through random words caught up here and there on a Brighton esplanade, or through the distorting medium of the tales of communicative housemaids.

May I be allowed to say that, even in these days of penny newspapers, I have often advised young men who have consulted me as to preparatory schools, to give their young pupils full accounts from time to time of any great or marked public events that are taking place; to teach them to feel that the horizon of their interests is something larger than that of the schoolroom and the playground? I venture to recall as a good deed of my own, my having at much pains and trouble conveyed to a night's rough quarters in London as many as possible of my young Rugby pupils, in order that they might tell their children's children that they had looked through a dull November morning on the funeral of the great Duke of Wellington.

But what was the actual school instruction given in those days to boys of the age I speak of, say from six or seven to ten or eleven ? I say school instruction; I am not speaking of what we had learned at home in the nursery or schoolroom, or in the quiet corner, or from listening to the conversation of our elders. I say nothing of early lessons in Bible or History, or of the hymns and texts which formed our ethical and religious manuals, or of the Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress which in the total absence of the deluge of more realistic stories had been, I rejoice to say, read, re-read, pondered, treasured, and beloved. Our education consisted, so far as I can remember, of one process-the imparting of knowledge, knowledge of various and no doubt useful kinds, through the appeal to one single faculty, that of memory. Our Latin Grammar, indeed, and our arithmetic were taught us, not by the ladies to whose care we were entrusted, but by a kindly master, who visited us daily; and these two subjects stand out to me-my younger readers will be surprised to hear-with quite a golden light in comparison to the rest of our work. For each

of these involved, not merely the repetition by heart of a daily task, but something that by the help of our slates we could ourselves produce, in a way and in a measure, for ourselves. I can still recall the very nouns and adjectives, and in due time the verbs, which we little fellows wrote out for him as answering to the novel forms which we had learnt in our Latin Grammar; so also, amidst, no doubt, many failures, the pleasure of seeing our Long Division sums answer the test of the proof' to which they were put, is one which all of us can easily appreciate. But the rest and the larger portions of our lessons have left on me an impression of extreme dreariness, and I must add, of much uselessness. Everything was learnt by rote-history, general information of various kinds, biography, even astronomy, even geography, were mere matters of memory. Books, useful enough I have no doubt when properly used—Mangnall's Questions I remember was one-were simply learnt by heart, and said memoriter, without, so far as I can recall, a word of explanation or illustration. The lists of Kings of England, of the metals, and of the planets were repeated one after the other without interest and without discrimination. I really think that we might almost without reproof have substituted any one for the other. I remember the particular corner of the schoolroom in which the mistress of the school heard us repeat —ah, that I could still retain them!-the dates of the English Kings. We were, I remember, many of us, fond of drawing, and our playhours were largely spent in trying to reproduce the sailing vessels which passed our coast, and in copying-I can recall them one after another -some scenes from a book of Bible pictures belonging to one of us. What would I give now, I said but lately for the hundredth time, as I wandered helplessly through Norman churches—I said still more lately as I talked about their drawings to our Abbey choristers—had some discipline and guidance been given to me as a mere child, and the foundation been laid of a habit that would have enabled me to observe with a trained eye and reproduce what I saw with a trained hand. Be thankful, schoolboy reader, for your School

of Art!

Again, we were, as all children are, creatures of imagination, and in walk after walk I had to repeat with a hundred variations the wondrous tale of Robinson Crusoe, his man Friday, the canoe, and the savages; but poetry, in any true sense of the word, was excluded from our course, and memory in its sternest and narrowest aspect was the one faculty exercised, and exercised on subjects little adapted to attract or interest us. I have visited a smail elementary school attended by children of the very humblest grade in the city of Westminster. I have listened with delight to a picturesque geographical lesson every word of which was as instructive as it was eagerly entered into by little boys reared mainly in the sadly squalid houses of that crowded region. There came back to me the day when standing side VOL. XV.-No. 85.


by side with the sons of men of means, education, and position, I learned by heart the chief countries and capitals of Europe, and, provided that I said them in a sense correctly, was allowed to simplify matters by saying the columns separately or in pairs-Spain, Portugal: Madrid, Lisbon, was quite sufficient. I remember an elder brother's amusement on my return home, on my insisting that Portugal was the capital of Spain, Lisbon of Madrid.

I said; 'I always say it so at school.'


Why not?'

The result was that all, or nearly all, that was learnt in this way went overboard as the vessel went on its course. A child's memory is strong to retain what is in itself at all impressive or adhesive, but happily even a child's memory can let much slide. I hardly know whether to rejoice or lament that of the mass of knowledge which I then committed to memory, I only retain as conscious relics, first, what I value greatly, two or three dates of English Kings; secondly, a strange and wonderful stanza about the Georgium Sidus, then the last discovered planet of our system; thirdly, a statement-too true, I doubt not, at that time-that a voyage to India required from three to six months!

Am I trifling, or is it just possible that even these slight recollections may be worth recording, that even the humblest story may be in its way an educational parable?

If so, let me pass now to another scene. It is a day-school within reach of my father's house, and I and my young friends, a little older if not wiser, are carrying our books and trundling our hoops to a much-respected master on the verge of Clapham Common, in a then important but still peaceful and suburban village, the birthplace of Macaulay, the frequent resort of Wilberforce, the Thorntons, the Sumners, Inglises, and others, in days when omnibuses, trams, and railways were yet unborn.

We children had passed into what I may call another zone, as it were, of intellectual experience. Our English lessons are mainly at an end; we have turned them over, perhaps with a touch of contempt, to our sisters; French and English history, music, and geography will do, we thought, for girls. We are setting ourselves sedulously to the training reserved for boys; and, so far as I remember, we do the work with much docility. Our lessons in Cæsar, our Latin exercises, even our Greek verbs and Delectus, have left no trace, except here and there, of special distaste or aversion, as felt either by myself or my friends. But the day soon came, the inevitable day, when it became part of our work to learn by heart those parts of the Latin Grammar, the Syntax, the As in præsenti, the Propria quæ maribus, which from the time of the Reformation onwards, had formed the main pabulum of the English schoolboy. I will not dilate on the labour it involved, nor on the value of the work which it displaced, nor on the aversion that it inspired in one at least of those young

students. I can hardly understand how a system which called on boys to commit to memory page after page of rules drawn up in somewhat barbarous Latin, and learned in my own case, I feel sure, without a word of comment, illustration, or explanation, to do this moreover long before they had advanced sufficiently far for more than a very few of these rules to correspond with anything that had fallen under their own observation, can have held its ground for over three centuries, and can find staunch defenders even now. I can only be thankful that my own experience of the system was just long enough to prevent me, during twenty-five years' life as a schoolmaster, from ever permitting a boy to say any grammatical rule to me in Latin words, or to quote to me any example that he had learnt by heart, without ascertaining that he knew its meaning and application, the reason why' he had it on his lips.

[ocr errors]

Need I say that in bringing forward these autobiographical details, I have no wish to vilify the instructors of my youth, or to condemn wholesale the educational system under which young Englishmen have been trained for three centuries? Still less shall I be suspected of a desire to undervalue the use of the ancient languages as still unrivalled instruments of education. Of the special teacher under whom we trod this stony path, I am sure that his surviving pupils have none but kindly recollections. But the state of things which I have described is a form of evil which, under one and another disguise, may meet us in any system or in the teaching of any subject. In teaching science, history, the English language, nay, in training the young child to read aloud, or in imparting the first rudiments of religious knowledge, there will always be the same danger; the tendency to allow dead and mechanical toil to take the place of living and fruitful work on the part both of the teacher and of the pupil. It is so easy to be contented with outside results, and not to look below the surface; it is so difficult to go down and down to the level of the young mind, and rouse, and stir, and coax, and tempt it to think, and work, and give real and full play and exercise to its faculties. And it is not the teacher only who is responsible. There is a sense, no doubt, in which the minds of the young are active enough, but there is a sense also in which they are often exceedingly the reverse. Real mental effort, any attempt at reflection, is apt to prove very trying, very distasteful to them: thinking, setting the mind really to work, what a Roman would call intentio animi, is a thing which to some gifted spirits may be a delightful pastime, but to which the minds of most growing boys have an instinctive aversion. They will often welcome a good deal of humdrum drudgery in preference to a very limited amount of such mental gymnastics. Have we never heard of Oxford undergraduates who prefer learning their little modicum of Euclid by heart to really mastering it? Yet to overcome this aversion, to train or win his pupils to take a real and hearty

« PredošláPokračovať »