« EelmineJätka »
Asia Minor, and other parts of Western Asia, with their almost unpronounceable names, I dreaded the approaching hour, as I was sure to be kept in for inability to repeat them, and it was sometimes only by several repetitions that I could attain even an approximate knowledge of them. No interesting facts were ever given in connection with these names, no accounts of the country by travellers were ever read, no good maps ever given us, nothing but the horrid stream of unintelligible place-names, to be learnt in their due order as belonging to a certain country.
History was very little better, being largely a matter of learning by heart names and dates, and reading the very baldest account of the doings of kings and queens, of wars, rebellions, and conquests. Whatever little knowledge of history I have ever acquired has been derived more from Shakespeare's plays and from good historical novels than from anything I learnt at school.
At one period when the family was temporarily broken up, for some reason I do not remember, I was for about half a year a boarder in Mr. Crutwell's house, in company with twenty or thirty other boys; and I will here give the routine of a pretty good boarding school at that period.
Our breakfast at eight consisted of a mug of milk-andwater and a large and very thick slice of bread-and-butter, For the average boy this was as much as they could eat, a few could not eat so much, a few wanted more, and the former often gave their surplus to the latter. Any boy could have an egg or a slice of bacon cooked if he bought it himself or had it sent from home, but comparatively very few had such luxuries. Three times a week half the boys had a hot buttered roll instead of the bread-and-butter. These penny rolls were much larger than any I have seen in recent years, although this was in the corn-law days, and one of them was as much as any boy wanted. They were cut in two longitudinally and well buttered, and were served quite hot from the kitchen oven. Any boy who preferred it could have bread-and-butter instead, as a few did, and any bread-and-butter boy who had
not much appetite could have a thin slice instead of a thick one by asking for it.
For dinner at one o'clock we had hot joints of meat and vegetables for five days, hot meat-pies on Saturdays made of remnants, with some fresh mutton or beef to make gravy, well seasoned, but always with a peculiar favour, which I think must have been caused by the meat having been slightly salted or pickled to keep it good. Of course the boys used to turn up their noses at this dinner, but the pie was really very good, with a good substantial crust and abundance of gravy. On Sundays we had a cold joint of meat, with hot fruit-pies in the summer and plum-pudding in the winter, with usually some extra delicacy as custard or a salad. Every boy had half a pint of fairly good beer to drink, and any one who wished could have a second helping of meat, and there were always some who did so, though the first helping was very liberal.
At half-past five, I think, we had milk-and-water and bread-and-butter as at breakfast, from seven to eight we prepared lessons for the next day, and at eight we had supper, consisting of bread-and-cheese and, I think, another mug of beer. The house where the masters lived and where we had our meals and slept was in Fore Street, and was about two hundred feet away from the school; and the large schoolroom was the only place we had to go to in wet weather, when not at meals, but as we were comparatively few in number, it answered our purpose very well.
Occasionally Mr. Crutwell gave us a special treat on some public occasion or holiday. Once I remember he gave us all syllabub in his private garden, two cows being brought up for the occasion, and milked into a pail containing two or three bottles of wine and some sugar. Having been all regaled with this delicacy and plum cake, and having taken a walk round the garden, we retired to our playground rejoicing.
Our regular games were cricket, baseball, leapfrog, high and long jumps, and, in the winter, turnpikes with hoops. This latter was a means of enabling those who had no hoops to get the use of them. They kept turnpikes, formed by two
bricks or stones placed the width of the foot apart, and the hoop-driver had to pass through without touching. If the hoop touched he gave it up, and kept the turnpike in his place. When there were turnpikes every five or ten yards all round the playground and a dozen or more hoops following each other pretty closely, the game was not devoid of its little excitements. We never played football (so far as I remember), which at that time was by no means such a common game as it is now. Among the smaller amusements which were always much liked were marbles and pegtops. Marbles were either a game of skill or a form of gambling. In the latter game a small hole was made against a wall, and each player in turn asked for a hand of two or four or even a higher number from some other boy; then with an equal number of his own he tried to pitch them into the hole, and if all or any even number remained in he won the whole, while if the number was odd he lost them. When a boy had lost all his stock of marbles he bought a halfpenny worth and went on playing, and in the end some would lose all the marbles they began with and several pence besides, while others would retire with their trouser-pockets almost bursting with marbles, and in addition several pence resulting from sales in their pockets. I well remember the excitement and fascination even of this very humble form of gambling play; how we would keep on to the very last moment in hopes of retrieving our losses or adding to our gains, then rush home to dinner, and return as quickly as possible to play again before school began. It was really gambling, and though perhaps it could not have been wholly forbidden, it might have been discouraged and made the text for some important teaching on the immorality of gaining only by another's loss. But at that time such ideas had hardly arisen in the minds of teachers.
Pegtops, whipping-tops, and humming-tops were all more or less appreciated, but pegtops were decidedly the most popular, and at certain times a large number of the boys would have them. We used to pride ourselves on being able to make our tops keep up as long as possible, and often
painted them in rings of bright colours, which showed beautifully while they were spinning. Those made of box-wood and of rather large size were preferred, as their weight, and the longer string that could be used, caused them to spin longer. The individuality of tops was rather curious, as some could only be made to spin by holding them with the peg upwards, others with it downwards, while others would spin when held in either position, and thrown almost anyhow. When tops were in fashion they might have been made the vehicle for very interesting teaching of mechanics, but that again was quite beyond the range of the ordinary schoolmaster of the early part of the nineteenth century.
During my last year's residence at Hertford an arrangement was made by which, I suppose, the fees paid for my schooling were remitted on condition that I assisted in the school. I was a good writer and reader, and while continuing my regular classes in Latin and algebra, I took the younger boys in reading and dictation, arithmetic and writing. Although I had no objection whatever to the work itself, the anomalous position it gave me in the school—there being a score of boys older than myself who were scholars only-was exceedingly distasteful. It led to many disagreeables, and subjected me to painful insinuations and annoying remarks. I was especially sensitive to what all boys dislike—the being placed in any exceptional position, or having to do anything different from other boys, and not of my own choice. Every time I entered the schoolroom I felt ashamed, and whether I was engaged at my own lessons or occupied as a teacher, I was equally uncomfortable. I cannot now remember all the details of what was to me a constant humiliation, but I am sure it must have been a time of very real mental anguish from one result that persisted almost into middle life. For at least twenty years after I left school, and I think even longer, I was subject to frequently recurring dreams of still having to go to school in the hybrid position of pupil and teacher, aggravated by feeling myself taller, and at last a man, and yet suffering over again with increased intensity
the shyness and sense of disgrace of my boyhood. In my dreams I hated to go; when I reached the schoolhouse I dreaded to open the door, especially if a few minutes late, for then all eyes would be upon me. The trouble of not always knowing what to do came upon me with exaggerated force, and I used to open my desk and fumble about among its contents so as to hide my face as long as possible.
After some years the dream became still more painful by the thought occurring to me sometimes that I need not go, that I had really left school ; and yet the next time the dream came I could not resist the impulse to go, however much I dreaded it. At last a phase came in which I seemed to have nothing to do at the school, and my whole time there was spent in pretending to do something, such as mending pens or reading a school-book, all the while feeling that the boys were looking at me and wondering what I was there for. Then would come a struggle not to go. I would say to myself that I was sure I had left school, that I had nothing to do there, that if I never went again nothing would happen; yet for a long time I always did go again. Then for a time I would dream that it was close to the holidays, or that the next day was breaking-up, and that I had better not go at all. Then I would remember that my books and slate and other things were in my desk, and that I must take them away. And after this for some years I would still occasionally dream that I had to go on this last day to carry away my books and take formal leave of Mr. Crutwell. After having got to this point even, the dream reappeared, and I went over the last school-day again and again ; and then the final stage came, in which I seemed to have the old impulse to go to school, even started on the way, and then remembered that I had really left, that I need never go any more, and with an infinite sense of relief turned back, and found myself in some quite different life.
Now, the very long persistence of such a dream as this shows, I think, how deeply impressionable is the mind at this period of boyhood, and how very difficult it is to get rid of painful impressions which have been almost daily repeated.