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ways seeking him a wife, nor, as his letters show, was Gibbon averse to the idea of matrimony. But he made no secret of his opinions on questions of religion, and was careful that, if inquired into, they should be known. "The Lady Mother," he writes,
has given me as proper an answer as can be expected. There is only one part of it which distresses me—Religion. Your evasion was very able; but will not prudence as well as honor require us being more explicit in the suite f Ought I to give them room to think that I should patiently conform to family prayers and Bishop Hooper's Sermons? I would not marry an Empress on those conditions.
After all, what occasion is there to enquire into my profession of faith? It is surely much more to the purpose for them to ask, how I have already acted in life— whether as a good son, a good friend, whether I game, drink, etc. You know I never practised the one, and in spite of my old Dorsetshire character, I have left off the other.
Gibbon had his faults; but, judged by the contents of these letters, and by the standard which he himself proposes, there can be but one answer to the questions he suggests, and that answer is emphatically in his favor.
Rowland E. Prothero.
From Blackwood's Magazine. SOME REFLECTIONS OF A SCHOOLMASTER.
Almost a quarter of a century has passed since there appeared in "Maga" a short series of papers under the title "In my Study-chair." It is an accident of our good fortune that we are privileged to take an affectionate and hereditary interest in those papers, written as they were by one who not only could appreciate to the full the worth of other men's books, but also had himself the pen o.' a ready and a graceful writer. His was one of those rarely cultured minds to which nothing appealed more strongly than the treasured works of the old-world
writers, and the volumes on which his eve loved to dwell as he sat in his study-chair were those ancient classics with which he himself kept up a lifelong friendship, and into the contents of which, in his later years, he so ably contrived to give "unlearned readers" some insight. Dear to his heart were the books themselves, and dearly cherished the associations connected with the early study of the prose and poetry of what to the modern advocate of a purely utilitarian education are indeed dead languages, but which, as an appreciative student justly remarked, "must continue to be the key of our best English literature." That only a very moderate portion of that spirit has fallen to our lot is the misfortune of a less intellectual nature. We have indeed a warm admiration for many though not quite all the classics, but it is the admiration only of a passing acquaintance as distinct from the constant affection of a familiar friend. A passage from Homer, dullard though we are, we acknowledge to sound to us more full of poetical fire than anything ever written in our own language; and we readily believe that in the Odyssey, "be its authorship what it may. lie the germs of thousands of the volumes which fill our modern libraries." Certainly in our early schooldays it was impressed upon our memory in more ways than one by a somewhat Draconian ruler, that between the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Walter Scott there existed a close relationship; and many a sin in the way of failure to construe our Iliad was covered by a timely recollection, real or feigned, that something very like the passage was to be found in one or other of the Waverley novels. It was as well, be it remarked, not to be too accurate on such occasions; for welcome indeed then the command, "Fetch me all my Waverleys, my boys," and the last half of that awful hour, which fortunately came but once a week, was spent by the whole class in looking for the parallel passage. Had we failed to strike that chord, the order—so painful experience taught—might have been, "Fetch me the black-book and the cane. I'll flog ye all." And what a load of anxletj was rolled off from our young minds when the rumor ran round the school that the warden had gone off for a change in the company of his Homer and his Shakespeare. For then we small fry, who heartily feared, though it was our creed to say we loved, his presence, felt that for a few days at any rate life was indeed worth living.
Or, again, we can read with pleasure passages in the Greek tragedians, and, while we only imperfectly appreciate their grandeur, can wholly recognize and regret our incapacity to give a rendering of them in English at all worthy of the original.
Finally, even to our untutored ears, a speech of Pericles in Thucydides, or a Philippic of Demosthenes or of Cicero, seems to have about it a ring and a power which a Burke or a Sheridan or a Magee may have rivalled, but which contrasts very favorably with the TimM-reported oratory of the modern politician.
And yet with all our shortcomings in respect to the classics, we may lay claim to having to a limited extent inherited a fondness for books. But the volumes, we are fain to confess, with which our own modest library is replete are the writings of the English novelists of the earlier half of the century—Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray. These we loved dearly in the past; as we gaze on the old familiar titles our thoughts wander back over many happy hours spent in their society; our only grievance against them in the present is that, as we take down one of our favorites from its place in the shelf and open it at haphazard, we feel that we shall know exactly what came on the preceding, and what will be told us in the next, page.
Ye come again! Dim visions of the past! That charmed in life's young morn these weary eyes. Shall I essay this time to hold ye fast? Still clings my heart to empty fantasies?
Ye throng around! Well! Be your glamour cast Upon me, as from shadowy mist ye
rise! Youth trembles through me, while I
breathe again The magic airs that whisper round your
train. Ye bring with ye the forms of happier
days, And many dearest shadows rise to view; Like tones of old and half-remembered
lays, Come early Love and Friendship tried
and true: Thought wanders back through Life's
If such epithets as "dim" and "shadowy" can hardly be said to apply to our recollections of the books of the three great authors we have mentioned, it is because we have from time to time, we might almost say from year to year, refreshed our memory. But much at any rate of an old friend's apt rendering of Goethe's introduction to "Faust" seems to describe the feelings we cherish for their works. As we look back to the many pleasant hours spent in the company of Esmond, David Copperfield, Ivanhoe. Quentin Durward, and other favorite heroes, we can readily understand that an enthusiast like Mrs. Fen wick Miller found in books a comfort and an interest that have never failed. Some of our best loved authors' works we naturally have found more interesting than others, but a reperusal of many that we have once hastily condemned has not unfrequently brought about a reversal of judgment, and though we have criticised "Bleak House" as too long, "Pendennls" as dull in parts, "St. Ronan's Well" as tame by comparison with Sir Walter's best work, we still feel that if we were condemned to a week's solitary confinement, we would choose any one of the three to while away the hours in preference to Mudle's box full of modern three-volume novels. Every detail of "Ivanhoe," and of many others of the Waverley novels, we had at our fingers' ends long before most boys leave a preparatory school; but while we can envy young and lucky people who still have these books to read for the first time, we console ourselves with the thought that they are there on the shelf ready at hand for us to read again when we will. But we hear on all sides now that the time is out of joint with the Waverley novels, and we have been told in these latter years that the Wizard of the North has no longer the power to interest the rising generation, that his work is too dry and too old-fashioned, and that the yonng brain requires a more invigorating and more satisfying food—that the children's teeth are set on edge by the sour grapes which their forefathers were perforce contented to devour. On one side a mother complains to us of the hard measure meted out to her boy of twelve on whom the penance of reading such a dull book as "Ivanhoe" has been imposed as a holiday task. "So very much beyond the poor boy, and so very uninteresting and old-fashioned for a really clever child!" and then the good lady goes on to inform us that schoolmasters as a class are really so extremely groovy (an opinion, by the way, which we cordially endorse) that they expect other people to be as narrow minded as themselves. We assent to the double proposition that schoolmasters are impossible themselves and expect impossibilities from others. Fortified by our complaisance, and sure of our sympathy, she continues: "Well, what I have done is just this. I have picked out a nice book myself for him to read, a really good modern book, and at the end of the holidays I shall just write and say that I am the best judge of his holiday reading." And she leaves us reflecting on the reasonableness of mothers and the corresponding unreasonableness of schoolmasters, and wondering whether by any chance that "really good modern book" will be "Trilby" or "The Sorrows of Satan."
On another occasion we are staying in a country house, and our hostess, who has noticed that we spend a good deal of our time in the library, informs us one night that we are to take Miss
down to dinner. "I am sure that
you will get on capitally with her; she is so fond of books and so very wellread."
Possibly our hostess gave our fair companion the cue, or was it out of deference to our grey hairs and general fogeyism that she forbore to discourse on balls, matinees, and other social subjects, and did not profess anxiety to know whether we danced, or hunted, or played golf, or were fond of music? No, our fair blue-stocking— for if she did not look the part she made a laudable attempt to play it—inaugurated a conversation by a reference to the literature of the day.
"You are very fond of reading, are you not?"
"I read a little sometimes."
"Well, I read a very great deal. I am devoted to books. I have just finished"—here she mentioned one of our three-volume enemies. "Is it not awfully clever?"
Fortunately we had dived into the book sufficiently to gather that it dealt of matters beyond our ken, and fortunately, too, our very superficial knowledge of the contents was good enough for the occasion. But we were not sorry when she showed an inclination to carry the war into our own territory.
"Now, do tell me what you have been reading lately."
"'Woodstock!' I never heard of it. What a pretty name. Who is it by? Do tell me all about it."
"Well, it was written by one Walter Scott."
"Oh. indeed! Is lt one of those— what funny name did he call his books by?"
"The Waverley Novels. Have you never read any of them?"
"Well, yes. I think I have read some, or tried to read them. But I am afraid that I skipped rather. They were so dreadfully—what shall I call it?—prosy, and so unlike anything one reads now."
So unlike indeed!
And once again—we Knew a boy in the flesh not so many years ago, one of the most industrious, honest, and healthy little fellows we ever met in a fairly wide experience of that ubiquitous article, the British schoolboy. At the age of thirteen he had many virtues, but at the same time a most profound antipathy for reading or any sedentary occupation whatever excepting that of biting his nails. Whether the antipathy to reading was innate or the result of deficient home-training —whether, in fact, he was the sinner or his parents—it would perhaps be impertinent to inquire. He was very conscientious, good-tempered, and obedient, and what we may call the mechanical side of the intellect was fully developed. But he was wholly devoid of any literary taste whatsoever. He would learn with ease and repeat accurately whole columns of irregular verbs or nouns, could rattle off the names and dates of kings and queens, of battles and treaties, and work through a page of examples in arithmetic without making a single mistake. But he never opened a book out of school-hours except under dire compulsion, and, save only the results of cricket-matches and the names—initials and all—of prominent cricketers, knew absolutely nothing of what went on in the world beyond what came in the ordinary course of school-teaching. He might almost be said to have had the capacity of locking up the door of his intellect, and keeping it locked until the sense of duty required that it should be opened. It was probably a sense of duty also which induced him to adopt a hoarse whisper by way of a voice in school-hours, and to reserve his natural intonation, which the Boanerges might have envied, for the play-ground or conversation with his school-fellows. Once the experiment was tried—an experiment which answers well in many cases—of setting him down to read a sensible book. Amenable as at all times to discipline, but wearing at the same a ludicrously dejected look, he undertook to do his best. He was taken to the library and asked what sort of story he would like. But he was diffident of expressing an
opinion and invited suggestions, and it was difficult to suggest when the only answers to be arrived at. given of course in the hoarse whisper, were "Pretty well," or "I don't know." So at last we started him off with "Ivanhoe," and he was graciously pleased to volunteer his opinion that it was a funny name. And for a whole month he devoted himself for perhaps two hours a week to "Ivanhoe;" and such was his conscientiousness that we fully believe he never skipped a word, and so great was his sense of the injury which the great intellectual effort was inflicting on his leisure that he never took a single word in.
"Well, old fellow, how is 'Ivanhoe' getting on?"
"Pretty well, thank you."
"How far have you got?"
"Oh. I've nearly read"—and he consults the top of the page—"one hundred and twenty pages."
"And whom do you like best?"
A hasty glance at the page to see what name came handiest.
He looks so extremely woe-begone over our cross-questioning that we make a feeble attempt at a joke.
"A little fellow-feeling—eh. my boy?"
"You don't know what I mean. I suppose?"
"Well, you know what Wamba was?"
"Yes." rather dubiously.
"One of the chaps in the book."
A week later we made one more attempt to find out whether the story had in any way appealed to him.
"Have you found any old friends in 'Ivanhoe'?"
"Do you mean to say that you never heard of any of the people before?"
"Well, you know King Richard T'
"Yes, Richard the First."
"Oh. yes. he was king 1189 to 1199."
"Well, you came across him in the Tournament."
"I didn't know it was the same chap."
And he implied by this remark that any form of book-learning indulged in out of school-hours is merely a work of supererogation, and not to be accounted as either profitable or edifying.
This last instance we have cited is an extreme one doubtless, but by no means unique. In all ages of mankind there has been born into the world, even among the so-called educated class, a certain proportion of boys to whom nothing verging on the intellectual is in any way a recreation, who feel with the preacher that "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Unfortunately the prominence conferred in these latter days on athleticism has a tendency to accentuate the mischief. Each year seems to add its quotum to the number of boys who regard each hour of playtime not devoted to some active exercise as so much time misspent or wasted. So long as they are out-of-doors this is a spirit to be encouraged. But we draw the line strongly at the youth who in the house can provide himself with no more intellectual occupation than talking cricket shop or studying the pages of an old Lillywhite's guide. When the cakes and ale lose their charm, when stiffened limbs and unpliant muscles forbid violent exercise, when custom, if not fatigue, compels a certain amount of sedentary leisure, what will be the end of these boys and men? Unless they mend their ways and force themselves, or are forced by others, to employ the talent which they are now content to wrap up in a napkin or to bury, they will become time-killers, club-loafers, uniutellectual bores; or, as nature abhors a vacuum, less kindly spirits than Calliope, Clio, or their sister Muses will posses i their minds, "an empty void though tenanted." To such as these old age will indeed be "pleasureless decay."
It is to this day a sort of comforting reflection, as we look back on our own boyhood through a long vista of years, that we were always employed in one way or another—in mischief often, in downright hard work on rare occa
sions, in active exercise on every possible opportunity, in condoning the effects of past misdemeanors by writing impositions not unfrequently. in quarrelling at times, in rat-hunting or rabbit-ferreting or throwing stones at squirrels whenever kindly fortune sent such vermin in our way. And when at enforced intervals a somewhat overrestless nature was coerced into bodily inactivity, the brain was called into play, and we simply devoured books, those books we have round us now, while the amount of castles that we built in the air, peopled by imaginary heroes, during the progress of a long sermon or lecture was something prodigious. We by no means commend ourselves as an example for imitation except in so far as we were always occupied, for ours was by no means a model boyhood; but we do take some honest pride in the fact that, for good or bad, we lived and moved as well as had our being in every waking minute, and were either pursued by vivid dreams at night, or, if we could, lay awake and thought to the music of other boys' snoring.
It is an old proverb that "Little boys should be seen and not heard," and it is. alas! many years since we heard it frequently applied to ourselves. It was invented, we cannot help thinking, by some spinster aunt who, never having had any little boys of her own, and not having had the luck to be a boy herself, knew nothing whatever of the feelings, character, or habits of the boy tribe. As we never ourselves had a spinster aunt, our remark is without prejudice. The boy, we hold, who does not on occasion make a good row and chatter consumedly. is either an unnatural being or is bottling up his energies for some less legitimate purpose. In either case he is to be labelled as a suspicious character. As we bethink us of that other proverb, "The devil finds work for idle hands to do," we instinctively find ourselves sympathizing with his satanic majesty as being a heavily taxed individual, especially in a populous and prosperous country in which boys are born at the rate of