Imágenes de páginas
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

But with all due sympathy for Paul Dombey as well as for that tallow-faced boy, we may not utterly and altogether condemn Miss Blimber's time-table- and that for the simple reason that it bears an irritatingly ridiculous resemblance to the curriculum of a preparatory school, and that on the minds of a good many boys as they leave these establishments much the same effect in the way of confused impressions may have been produced as existed in the mind of Paul Dombey. We can, however, plead extenuating circumstances, and say that we are obliged to be subservient to those higher powers the Public Schools. And some of these, if we may judge from the papers set in their entrance examinations, apparently favour an olla - podrida of undigested knowledge in preference to a few subjects thoroughly known. Indeed, if the preparatory schoolmaster is to take a fair place in the competition - wallah, he too, like Miss Blimber, must be a forcer rather than a teacher. We will not, then, wholly


[ocr errors]

condemn either Miss Blimber or that governess who is forced to a certain extent to take her for a model by the circumstance that she is bound to carry out the wishes of dare we use the expression—an injudicious parent. With all due humility we venture to offer to the parent and governess our own idea of what we should like a boy of nine to be able to do—

1. To read an easy book articulately and with intelligence, and to be able to point out the parts of speech of every word in a short given passage.

2. To write a bold round hand, crossing t's and dotting i's; and to be sufficiently up in the laws of spelling to do a simple piece of dictation with not more than two mistakes in ten lines.

3. To know his tables, and to be able to do multiplication, addition, division, reduction, subtraction.

"But," says the mother with conviction, "my child knows all that already." If, madam, you have taught him yourself, or even constantly examined him yourself, we may accept your conviction. But if your conviction is only based on a governess's report, pray try the following test. Go to some hard-hearted man, a schoolmaster for choice, and ask him to give you two papers, -one a piece of dictation (and in addition to doing that dictation, he must name what parts of speech each word in the first ten lines is), the other an easy arithmetic paper. Shut the boy up in a room with yourself, away from the governess; put yourself on your honour not to give any help, far less to peep at the answers like our friend the parson; and then send the result off to the hard-hearted man; and if he be an honest as well as a hard-hearted friend, his opinion

will have more weight with us than your conviction.

Another objection we can easily anticipate is, that nothing has been said about history or geography. To this we would answer, that to an intelligent child no story-book has such a fascination as the historical story-book; that the name of these is legion; and that if the selection be judiciously made, the child will learn more about history than at his age he would ever extract from a dry manual. And we will add, that short historical stories told by word of mouthand who can tell stories of this sort better than an educated woman!often make a more lasting impression on a child's mind than anything he reads himself. It may be a somewhat lazy form of acquiring knowledge, but not unfrequently the same feeling of curiosity which leads a man to look at the last page of a novel for the dénouement, will make a child search out the original story of which he has heard the outlines. So-called curiosity in a child may be appetite for legitimate as well as illegitimate knowledge.

We will suppose that the boy has satisfied the hard-hearted friend, and that the mother is triumphant. "There," she says, "I told you 80." Well and good, madam. In the first place, we congratulate you on your governess, and would recommend you to raise her salary, and to do anything in your power to retain her until all your boys have gone to a preparatory, or, as we really do not want to press that point, a public school. And in the second place, we congratulate you on being the mother of a distinctly intelligent child. We may tell you that our experience has generally been that, if we asked a boy to write down the grammatical name of each word in six lines of an easy book, he has indeed picked

[ocr errors]

out a few stray nouns or verbs, and here and there an adjective, but that beyond these three his ideas have been so extremely vague that he might as well at once have been armed with a pepper-pot full of the terms "conjunction," "adverb," &c., and scattered the contents broadcast over his paper. And we may add that to this day, pace Mason, Morris, and other celebrities, we have never unearthed an English grammar which was the slightest help to a dull boy.

A Harrow master has for some years past, with the view of encouraging a knowledge of history in preparatory schools, offered prizes for competition, and sent round a series of papers A, B, C. A is for all competitors, but only a boy who answers A well is offered paper B, and only a select few who satisfy the examiner in B arrive at the dignity of having their names printed and circulated and being allowed to enter the final stage C.

Let us employ the same system, and now, as our young disciple has passed the qualifying stage A, we will promote him to B.

Let us then allow in our B a little more advanced history, comprising the names and dates of the kings and queens of England, in itself a good effort of memory; some idea of the causes of our great wars, as well as the names of the principal battles and commanders; and let all this be done with the aid of a historical atlas, which shall have not a great many names marked, but simply the names of the really important places. And let him once a-week give on paper in his own language his ideas of some great man, and let not the style be quite so laconic as that of our author of "The Life of Moses."

In geography, too, he should be able to put together one of those

admirable piece-maps of England and of Europe, which will give him an idea of the position of counties and countries, while as an exercise of memory he may learn the capitals of each.

And in this stage B, as he has now mastered the elements of his own language, let him, if you like, go on to French and to Latin, and if he really knows the verbs avoir and être in the one, and the declensions in the other, he may be sent to a preparatory school with the perfect certainty that he is, if not more apparently advanced, at any rate more thoroughly grounded than nine-tenths of the newcomers he will meet there.

And it follows that to map out all that would come under the heading C, would be for us a work of supererogation.

But-oh, how often have we been asked that question!—which style of Latin pronunciation, the new or the old, do you recommend? There was a time when that question really and truly did excite our expectations and raise our hopes. Now, alas! habit and inurement dictate an evasive answer; for when that question is asked, we have an inward conviction amounting almost to a certainty, that when young hopeful comes to school, the extent of his Latin knowledge will be two declensions badly learnt and badly taught. Provided the boy can transcribe mensa and annus without a single mistake, both he and his instructors may, so far we are concerned, pronounce the words in any way their fancy may dictate.


We feel that we are a sort of fungus on the tree of civilisation, creatures at least as much of other people's necessities as of our own choice; that, like Ginx's babies, we are not even cordially accepted by the real authors of our exist

ence, who talk glibly of our long holidays and short hours, and at the same time have only a very hazy notion of what our work really is. Briefly, then, we may say that our hours of work are from sunrise to sunset, and then from sunset to sunrise — not all teaching hours, we grant you, but hours every one of them in which a matron may come and rouse us from our light slumber to tell us that Master Dombey has got the croup, or Master Toots has developed a rash. Light our slumbers always are; for on the shoulders of the preparatory schoolmaster, from the very first to the very last hour of the school term, rests that anxious responsibility-the care of other people's children, for each one of whom he has to take, in the absent parent's interest, more thought and more precautions than any man would ever dream of taking for his own child. We are as a class far less dependent on the parents than the parents as a class are upon us. The coal strike lately paralysed the industry of the country: a combined strike of preparatory schoolmasters would have an even more startling effect. We are quite willing that for the whole year round the parents should have the full and undisputed benefit of the society of that vivacious young gentleman, who even now bores them so intensely before the end of the vacation. But whereas in the present for some two-thirds of the year they choose to employ our agency, and are often careful to impress upon us their own views of what boys should know when they leave our care, we in our turn have ventured to give some idea of what we should like the boys to know when they first come to us :

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]


THERE are on view, at the present time of writing, at Mr Rowland Ward's well-known establishment in Piccadilly, the only two full-grown specimens of Rhinoceros simus, the so-called white or square-mouthed rhinoceros, that have ever reached this country. Second only in size among terrestrial mammals to the elephant, the immense and grotesque frames of these old-world creatures are built up and sustained by grass of the field, and might be pressed, one would say, into the service of the Vegetarian Society as notable examples of the result of a purely herbivorous diet. But, in truth, there is a special melancholy interest connected with these colossal forms, for the stuffed skins and the skeletons which once sustained them are all that any of us shall henceforward see of a remarkable race of our fellow-creatures. If it is not yet true that the white rhinoceros is no more, he is all but no more. It is believed that in south-western Africa there exist no more of this species than may be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Over these

"Annihilation waves his dusky wing;" they must fall before the insatiate butchers who, under the grievous misnomer of sport, persecute those rare and brave animals which come under the head of "big game," and the white rhinoceros, once so plentiful in one corner of the mysterious continent of Africa, must share the fate of the American buffalo, and disappear before improved firearms and explosive bullets. The sole survivor of native British big game is the reddeer, which, though still plentiful in the Highlands and Islands of

Scotland, has there sadly deteriorated in weight of body and spread of horn, owing to the inclement regions in which alone it finds a refuge. Besides these, there are but two spots in the British isles where this noble beast still lingers unconfined-Exmoor and Killar


Meanwhile, those of us at home who may divert their thoughts from clamant social and political problems are beginning to be concerned about the impoverishment of our less imposing native fauna. We feel that somehow our wild birds ought to receive better protection, but we differ greatly among ourselves as to the means, or even the possibility, of effecting this. It is not from neglect that they are suffering, but contrariwise from over-abundant attention of several kinds.

Some hold the simple faith that the most desirable end is that wild birds should be protected from extermination in their native haunts, so far as that is consistent with the requirements of an ever-increasing population. Others find a somewhat selfish, if sympathetic, solace in the care of captives, and content themselves with observation of their habits, so far as these may be watched through the wires of a cage; while a third, and, it is to be feared an increasing, class regard stuffing the empty skins as the only method of preservation worth attention. It may be of interest to examine how far the objects of these three classes may be reconciled and regulated, consistently with due regard to the liberty of the subject. This liberty is sometimes lost sight of in the anxiety of those who, with the best intentions, promote schemes

of legislation of which, while they see the merits, they are insensible to the defects. The difficulty of legislating on some subjects is often inverse to its importance, illustrating the old adage-De minimis non curat lex -the law cannot concern itself with trifles.

The most satisfactory outcome, so far, of awakening interest in our native birds, is the solicitude shown by certain landowners and others for the protection of harmless or beneficent species, and this has lately taken concrete form in the establishment of the Society for the Protection of Birds. This society held its second annual meeting last February, and the principal subject of discussion was the bill to amend and extend the Wild Birds Protection Act (1880). This bill has been introduced in four successive sessions of Parliament. In the first two of these years it was in charge of Mr A. Pease and Sir Edward Grey; in the last two it has fallen to Mr J. Pease and myself to conduct it. In its original form the bill made penal the killing of certain species, named in a schedule, in any part of the United Kingdom. Now, the wisdom of Parliament may be held to be beyond dispute, but, if one may speak and live, it is neither omniscient nor infallible; and to lay down a hard-and-fast rule in this matter, equally applicable to every district to the woodlands of Warwickshire and the crags of Caithness, the heaths of Surrey and the bogs of Connemara-would be to bring the wisdom of Parliament into very hazardous repute. Not only do districts vary materially in their character and avifauna, but some of the species named for protection under the bill of 1892, though exceedingly rare in some

counties at the present time, would become, if strictly preserved, inconveniently common. Eagles, kites, buzzards, peregrine falcons and merlins, harriers and ravens (all of which were named in the schedule of Sir Edward Grey's bill), are objects almost as unfamiliar in English rural scenes as the proverbial black swan was to the Roman populace in classical times; but were it made penal to molest them, the air itself would be darkened with these birds of ravin. Grouse (the solitary species that we can claim as the exclusive property of the British Isles) would become very scarce, and the price of English partridges would rise far beyond the means of thousands of householders who are able under present conditions to number the little brown bird among the occasional luxuries of their fare. We should be called on to sacrifice not only the interests of field-sport, but the presence in numbers of beautiful and edible birds, in order to secure that of birds equally or more beautiful, but valueless to our comfort. Nor is that all. Pastoral industry in these islands is maintaining a mortal struggle with foreign competitors. How would it be with hill - farmers if they were commanded under pains and penalties to abstain from defending their lambs from the cruel assaults of eagles and ravens? Clearly it would be a gross act of tyranny to enact such a law.

Howbeit, as these proposals have been abandoned, it avails not to discuss them further, though it seems well to point out some of their objectionable features, lest, as may happen, they should some day be laid again before the House of Commons when that assembly is in one of its melting moods.

« AnteriorContinuar »