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No Situation in society is more laborious and more irksome than that of common teachers, and no class of men is held in less public estimation, considering the important station they occupy. It is no small disgrace to our country, that men whose time and talents are exclusively devoted to the training of youth should be so ill recompensed for their valuable services. Parents in general calculate on nothing but the paltry pittance they pay for the education of their offspring, and reckon as an equivalent for their " trash" only the visible attainment of common-place accomplishments. They shut their eyes to the minute and multifarious details of duty no less incumbent on the teacher, than the more palpable branches of his profession. They seldom reflect, that thousands of their sons and daughters are probably kept from being wilful, hardened, and habitual liars, during their whole lives, by the salutary admonitions and corrections of their instructors; that the hand of the covetous has been kept from theft, and that of the fierce from violence and outrage; that natural perversity of understanding, has acquired a sense of right and wrong, and wilful wickedness been checked before it had become habitual, and before it has blasted the character of its possessor; and that every individual son and daughter that belongs to them is more or less indebted through life to the unseen but effective operation of the moral and religious principles which it is the peculiar province of the teacher to inculcate. "What is your child learning at school?" says one parent to another: "Reading, writing, and arithmetic," is perhaps the reply, as if these common attainments made up the sum total of the teacher's duties; and the reply is probably accompanied with a niggardly grumbling at the extravagant amount of the school fees.
These same persons who grudge the poor man his miserable means of subsistence, will not grudge the absurdly extravagant charge of the dancing master, for teaching their beloved sons and daughters what the professors of dancing call a genteel and polite deportment. They will ungrudgingly pay any sum to have their offspring stripped of their natural modesty; to have them trained to duck and bow, and nod and scrape, according to the fashionable mode of ducking, bowing, nodding, and scraping; to teach them ingresses and egresses into and out of parlours, dining-rooms, and ball-rooms; together with all the lacka-daisical formalities of salutation and invitation, any breach of which is, in their stupid understanding, more heinous than a breach of any article of the decalogue. It is a miserable state of things, when children are made up for sale, and handed about for inspection, as if they were articles of merchandise; when they are <wtimated by their parents, not for what they will bring of the riches of the grace of God, but of the mammon of unrighteousness. This is the age of lackered brass and bronzed impudence; and the poor dominie need not expect that the avaricious will cheerfully part with their gold, which they so much require to overlay and conceal their own earthly and earthward baseness of disposition.
But leaving the teacher of the present day to struggle with his own difficulties, let us look back to the village Dominie of the olden time, with his free house, his cow's grass, his pitiful salary, and his more pitiful school fees! The intellectual light of a whole parish had perhaps emanated from him, and yet his ill-requited drudgery held out to himself no prospect but that of continual poverty, and the dismal anticipation of being cut off in the midst of his days by the blighting unhealthiness of his profession. Intended for the church too, perhaps—days, months, and years of intense study—probably eight or ten years at college, and contributions levied from a host of poor relatives to keep him there. And all comes to this at last—a Dominie! mercy on us—Poor soul! Let your imagination look back some fifty years into the eternity of the past, and take his picture. Look at him with his pale wrinkled forehead, bald, almost to the crown—his eyebrows knitted to overshadow and screen his weak grey eyes glimmering feebly through his spectacles—his long thin nose, at whose point a snuff-drop is continually wagging—his nether lip habitually hanging down, as if in sympathy with his own misery—his bloodless complexion, whose unchanging colour even the frosty breath of a winter day cannot bite into a hectic flush—his wasted body, whose aiticulations are starting through his clothes—and his clothes thread-bare, and grey with the eternal cloud of dust that rises from the patting feet of his pupils, and floats around him in a dense and suffocating mass. What an atmosphere to live and breath, and move, and have a being in! It is worse than the corrupted atmosphere of a mule-twist cotton mill. Even the round and rosy cheeks of the lively little innocents themselves are blanched at the end of a six hour's drilling, and the blood stagnated in the veins of the most mercurial of them. Reader, did you ever put your nose into a pentup school in a clear frosty day? If you have, you will recollect the heavy putrid air that rushed into your lungs, clogging the machinery of your body, and sinking your soul far below zero! Poor wretch! to labour in the mines of Siberia, or in any other mines, may be bad enough; worse than this it cannot be. Trembling of a morning to put the razor to his beard, lest he should, without any good reason, or rather without any reason at all, cut his own throat—his mind filled with wild and hypochondriacal fancies—nausea tug-tugging at his stomach, vertigo spinning in his brain, and the first symptoms of palsy calling in the aid of a staffto prop his feeble and decaying tabernacle. Most generous forefathers! Your posterity boast of your moral worth, and your far-diffused intelligence: what a pity you could not feel it in your heart, to be a little more grateful towards those to whom you were in a great measure indebted for such inestimable blessings.
Oh, if there lives in this wide world one human being who has bowels of compassion for the sufferings of another, he will shed tears of retrospective sorrow over the miseries of this poor forlorn cast-away, when he beholds him struggling with the complicated diseases of his own frame, and the niggard narrowness of his fortune. He will weep most sincerely when he beholds, or imagines he beholds, the man of letters labouring, and labouring most successfully, to fix the alphabet in the liquid memory of some brainless cub, whose dull eye has no distinct conception of any difference in characters. What a world of labour to let the best of them know the difference between b and d, and p and q. And then comes the practical management of the whole school. There was life, and spirit, and vigour, and insolence, and rebellion, in the rising generation of that period, and strict discipline was a thing not easily established or preserved. Ill-read lessons—ill-recited tasks—utter inattention to every thing in the world, but mischief—idleness that laughed at admonition, and set the scourge at defiance—sullen stupidity, that would neither be kicked, cuffed, nor wheedled into a sense of duty—obduracy that gloried in suffering like a Spartan—impatience that fretted itself, and tormented others under the least restraint—heedlessness that overlooked the plainest consequences of actions, and ran headlong into eternal blunders—lying, that looked up in the master's face with brazen audacity, and denied what he himself had witnessed with his own eyes— juvenile dishonesty that stood convicted without feeling disgraced —endless excuses for duties neglected—books torn and strewed in every direction—slates broken—copies slurred and blotched—last of all, downright disobedience, that impudently set its face against all authority, and sturdy rebellion that threatened to thrust out the poor pedagogue, and turn his academy into a puerile republic.
Such are a few of the internal disorders that the village Dominie of former times was called upon to repress. There were external circumstances, however, which, though less irritating, were more calculated to degrade the dignity of his character and office. Among these, were the occasional presents he received from the parents of his pupils, not as rewards for diligence in the exercise of his profession, not as gifts of friendship, but either as plain and unequivocal bribes, or, at other times, as contributions from the tender-hearted and benevolent, who were aware of his necessities. These piecemeal contributions to his ill-stored pantry, were necessarily productive of a painful feeling of beggarly dependence on his part, under whose influence no mind, however elevated, could long retain its original dignity. His Candlemas offering was a small scheme to increase his narrow income; it was a periodical pleading of poverty, that brought his misery under the review of his employers, and made him be talked of as one who was receiving the benefit of a public subscription. His coal money too, a tax still exacted, was seldom paid with cheerfulness; and in some remote districts of the country, where coal was not very abundant, the children might be seen on the winter mornings trudging along to school each with his daily or veeklycontributions of peats under hisarm, for the school fire. What an inglorious thing was it to see the poor Dominie, as was the case in some quarters, marching at the head of his school, on a certain day of the year, with a son of tweedledee fiddling on before him, or bringing up the rear of the motley procession, till they reached the door of his wealthy and perhaps noble patron, who gratified his generous soul by causing bread and milk to be distributed among the little urchins who danced before his door, and by bestowing upon their venerable preceptor the munificent annual donation of—One Guinea!
The poor soul had likewise many gratuitous duties to perform, for which a dose of usquebaugh was the commonly proffered recompense. Petitions for the poor, love letters, acrostics, valentines, and all the puerile nonsense both in prose and verse, that makes up the ephemeral literature of a little village; solutions of crabbed questions in arithmetic for old pupils—lengthened compositions on polemical divinity written at the solicitation of some half-defeated dogmatist in theology—and a host of minor obligations, always thankfully received because always to be had for nothing. Surrounded by all these vilifying circumstances, performing all these ill-requited services, and seldom or never rising above the condition of absolute dependence, the common feeling towards him was pity, mingled in some with a single grain of contempt, and in others with a rude and ignorant admiration of his intellectual attainments.
It was of all things most humiliating to behold him on the first morning of the week calling on the little tremblers around him for their weekly school fees, and assuming a sort of mock dignity upon the occasion, the better to conceal from himself the inward debasement of spirit which he felt, when he took the slender pittance from the little hand he had often scourged, and was perhaps about to scourge again, five minutes after receiving this fractional portion of his subsistence from it. And then to hear him bawling out to some helpless child of poverty, who had failed in his weekly payment, "Go, n 11 your illiterate pawreuts to send me that tfpptnce hailpenny of school wages, or leave my school this instant." No wonder the unhappy man was a little crazy in intellect and infirm in body. To see a poor debilitated creature of the kind we have spoken of, labouring in a village school, with some fifty or sixty sturdy vagabonds, whose hard heads were obdurately sealed against instruction, and whose robust bodies were capable of bearing the severest flagellation without wincing, was surely a sight calculated to make every man of reflection thank his Maker that he was not reduced to the necessity of "teaching the young idea how to shoot." Only imagine the deafening uproar, and the tumultuous confusion that sometimes reigned in these little seminaries. We have laughed heartily when we heard an ancient friend of ours, who began to run his career of life somewhere about the beginning of the last century, mention that he once passed one of those schools during a tremendous tempest of riotous insubordination, when the baffled teacher, unable to repress the horrible sedition that raged within, rushed towards thedoor, stood there, stretched out his one hand to his pupils in the interior, the other to the passengers in the street, and, with the distorted features, the frantic gesticulations, and the impassioned voice of a maniac, exclaimed to the unsympathizing passengers, "Just let any decent Christian look in here,—I say let any decent Christian just look in here and tell me candidly if he ever saw such a pack of incarnate devils as these boys on the face of the earth." Every one laughed, and no one looked in, and the Dominie continued—" They are not boys, they are hell-hounds—it is intolerable, perfectly intolerable ! —curse it! I shall lock my doors for ever, and give up school-keeping altogether;" and, so saying, or rather shouting, the distracted man rushed back to assume the reins of his almost subverted government. The man was mad, no doubt of it. The way in which schools were managed in former times was enough to drive any man mad. To have one's income made up of weekly twopences, groats, and sixpences,—to be " worn to the bone with sharp misery," —to have one's constitution broken down with the most intolerable drudgery,—to be tormented all day with dyspepsy, and ridden with incubus all night,—to be ill clothed, ill lodged, and ill fed, were evils too serious to be borne with patience by any human being.
The man of set phrases and pedantic peculiarities has been gathered to his fathers, and with him have vanished the fantastical punishments, the unmerciful flagellations, and the capricious despotism that cowed the weakness of childhood into cowardice, or exalted puerile independence of spirit into hatred of authority, and an unqualified abhorrence of every thing that wore the aspect of learning. The graves of the fraternity are without headstone or inscription, and the memory of their doings is growing dim in the distance of the past;