The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Lyonesse; Education at Home Versus Education at a Public School
by T. G. Rooper
Perhaps my earliest recollection is the name Lyonesse. I was certainly not above three years old when my mother told me that as soon as I was big enough I should leave home and go to a great school of that name. My brother also came to and fro during his holiday, when he seemed to be made much of by everybody at home, and not least by the domestics. There was a kind of frank and open manner, an ease in conversation, a buoyancy of spirits, which evidently made him good company with everyone; yet his high spirits were always under an imperceptible control, which, without diminishing anything of their charm, deprived them of all their nuisance. How I admired the manly tone of my brother. How winning were its gaiety and confidence, which, however, could never be confused with the pretentious affectation of the dignity of manhood which is not uncommon in big boys and so insufferable. In my brother freedom and self-control were happily united. Then, again, how good-natured my brother was to me. What stories he told me of his school adventures; and last, but not least, those hampers which were sent to him at school, how can I ever forget my envy of them! Years rolled by; my brother was besieging Sebastopol, but I never forgot that I was to have the pleasure of one day taking his place at Lyonesse, and never ceased to regard it as the greatest honour and distinction that could possibly fall to my lot. The day came at length, when I was nearly fourteen years old. From the narrow life of a small private school I was to be promoted to the larger life of one of the greatest public schools in the land.
It is important to notice the spirit in which I entered it. First of all, from my earliest recollection I had been encouraged to believe in the dignity of the school and in the honour that it was to belong to it. I had imbibed with my mother's milk the true spirit of esprit de corps, so much so that I remember, when it yet wanted a year to the time when I could possibly join the school, I created roars of laughter round a table by informing one of the guests who was asking where the boys attended church at Lyonesse that "we had a chapel of our own." The laughter surprised me at the time, its motive only became clear to me years after. Next it is important to remember what sort of place the school was supposed to be in my imagination. I believed, then, that it was a very wicked place, and rather a rough and cruel one, and for the most part a very idle place. I was taught to expect that I should have to persist in doing right when many around would half persuade and half force me to do wrong, that I should be liable to be bullied or tormented by big boys for their amusement, and that I should be laughed at and despised if I stuck to my books. I believed, however, that these were difficulties that it was a real privilege for a boy to be allowed to face, and I had confidence in myself that I should not be overtasked in meeting them. I believed that I should have to work my way up the school from the lowest to the highest forms in the teeth of obstacles that were worth overcoming, and I doubted not that I should overcome them. "Oh," it may be thought, "you had evidently read 'Tom Brown.' This is a false hypothesis. I had not read "Tom Brown." I will tell you why. While at a small preparatory school I once got a prize. I applied to my father if he could recommend me a book to choose, for choice was allowed us. He wrote word, "Ask for 'Tom Brown.'" I did so. Never shall I forget the effect of my request upon my master. I was surprised to see him stand silent for a moment while wrath gathered on his brow, and then he turned his back on me and walked the length of the room and back again, exclaiming, fiercely, " I will have no Tom Brownery here. 'Tom Brown!'" and then he muttered something about "brutality," and went off saying he would choose a book for me; "Jesse's Country Walks," I think it was. So it came about that I never read "Tom Brown at School" until I was a University man, and then I understood, what puzzled my juvenile mind, how a book which my father so confidently recommended should be so indignantly scorned by my master.
The day when I entered Lyonesse has impressed itself indelibly on my mind. I left home with sorrow, for it was always a happy one, and accompanied my father to the scene of the next few years of my life's history. I had never seen the little town before, but it did not seem new to me. I had been there in the spirit often. We inspected the school buildings, the playgrounds, and the chapel. We called on the Head Master. That was a surprise--the only surprise which I experienced that day. I expected to find a stern, pedantic senior, with a reserved, imposing manner, who would look on the little new boy "as an archangel would look on a blackbeetle," or, to put it stronger, as the Dean of Christ Church on an undergraduate outside Tom Quad at Oxford. In place of that I met a warm welcome from a young-looking and most good-natured gentleman, who instantly set me at my ease, and, more than that, conveyed a certain sense of my new responsibilities by asking me personally such questions as have to be answered by all fresh comers and recorded for future reference. I remember that when my father proposed to answer these questions for me the Head Master requested that I should be permitted to answer for myself. The day wore away, and the impressive moment came when I must part with my father, as it seemed in a certain sense, for ever. I should never more live at home, I reflected I should only spend my holidays there; I was commencing independent life; I was now a part of a great school, I had realised the yearnings of my childhood.
My father was not the man to improve the occasion; he was one of those who thought that decisive events best speak for themselves and are their own interpreters. At sundown we were at the entrance of a narrow passage leading to the room which I was to occupy that term, and there we parted, he to catch a train to town, and I, as I turned on my heel and heard his "God bless you," to run off to my new room with a "lump in my throat," and a firm mentally expressed resolve neither to disgrace my home nor my school, and to play a man's part in the latter and a son's in the former. I wish to emphasize the fact that my whole state of mind at the time was an active spirit of resistance. I knew I was to face troubles, and I was prepared to do so. The next day I wrote a letter home commencing "Dear Mother" instead of "Dear Mamma," much to her amusement. I need not describe at any length my schoolboy experiences. School life proved to be much what I expected: the evil was great, as I had anticipated; the good was far greater than I had been prepared for. As an example of the way in which school sharpens up a lad, I may mention that the next morning, on leaving a classroom at nine o'clock, I was set a lesson in Latin syntax which was to be said at ten o'clock. In the interval I had to procure the book from the bookseller--which would consume some time owing to the necessity of completing certain previous formalities--and also get breakfast. Finding that there was no time for the latter, as soon as I got my book I bought a roll, which I ate in my room while I learnt my rules, instead of going down to the breakfast-hall. I was not long in learning to discard the leisurely drawling ways of private instruction, and soon unlearnt the childish habit of making plausible excuses for unfulfilled duties, instead inventing ways of overcoming difficulties.
I have said that I found boys that were bad. I found, however, boys that were certainly good. One, I remember, in my room, who was decidedly what appeared to me the son of a man of the world, used to read his Bible every evening, a thing the rest of us were not in the habit of doing, but his unostentatious practice produced an effect on us. Cases of outrageous bullying or cruelty occurred. They are difficult to explain. I do not think the bullies were intentionally cruel. They were too thoughtless and stupid to understand the pain which they inflicted. Still harder was it to understand why certain boys got thus treated. I learnt to think, and still think, that when a boy is bullied he is himself partly to blame for it. Perhaps the cause of much of the mischief was the long space of time that boys used to be left without superintendence in the winter evenings. I never remember bullying in the summer-time, when everyone was out of doors till nearly nine o'clock. As to study, the tone of the boys was steadily against all application to work, but there was no great difficulty by the aid of tact and good temper in pursuing your own course. Your comrades certainly hindered rather than helped your diligent fulfilment of your tasks, but you had the advantage of learning to discharge your duties in the face of hindrance and opposition. It is doubtful how far virtue is virtue if all chance of doing wrong is effectually excluded. "Marcet sine adversario virtus"--(virtue withers without opposition). My own belief is that parents in sending their sons to a great boarding-school are like shipowners entrusting a small boat to a stormy sea.
It took me but a few days to fall into the routine of school life, and to answer with implicit obedience to the monotonously recurring signal of the school bell. Lessons I knew were in all schools compulsory, but in this school games were compulsory also. The first wet afternoon I prepared to sit in my room and read, never supposing that it would be my duty to play football in pouring rain. I was supposed to be delicate at home, and therefore I was horrified when one of my companions told me that, come wind, come weather, I must don my flannels and join the game. I remember I asked the head boy of the house, who had a dispensing power, to let me off that day in consideration of the rain. His reply was not encouraging, and I remember something about a kick which came not in front of the shins, where you nobly receive shoe-leather in football, but ignominiously on the other side. It was, however, a delightful discovery to find that no harm came of playing out of doors in the rain, and that getting wet through, followed by an immediate change into dry clothing, was invigorating instead of being fatal to life, as I had learnt to believe at home.
One of the most strongly marked impressions of those early days at school is the good-nature of one of the big boys who knew my people at home. Though I was not in his house he found me out, and told me that if any fellows began to bully me I might come to him. "Then," said he, "I will lick him, or at any rate I will fight him." The kindness of my friend touched me not a little, and the proviso which he appended to his offer, "If I cannot lick him I will fight him," set me thinking, "What more is this than I can do for myself?" The remark led to a determination to fight my own battle. Hard work and vigorous play brought the end of term near at hand, and it became clear that it lay between me and another boy which should be top in the examination. This little rivalry led to chivalrous sentiments, as is indicated in the following fragment of conversation which abides in my memory as a pleasant recollection, not more by reason of the mere words than by reason of the genuine effort which it cost to utter them and the genuine heartiness which they were uttered:
Which of us will be first on Saturday?
I: I am sure I hope you will.
We were too young for conventional courtesy. It must be set down to the credit of public school life that it affords opportunity for the development of what Lord Shaftesbury calls the "courtesy of the heart," as distinguished from the courtesy of convention.
Holidays came. I returned home with a prize and the measles, but after recovery I was held to be much improved by my first term. For example, I had learnt to be obliging. Before going to school I remember being very sulky if I was asked to go on an errand. A brief experience of fagging had taught me to take pleasure in doing small services smartly. Three things I had learnt thoroughly in my first term--viz., to make my master's toast, to lay a table for tea or breakfast, and to black boots. "These arts are worth learning," it may be said, "but did you learn nothing more worth the L200 a year which your education was probably costing?" The course of study was undoubtedly limited. History, Science, Mathematics, and Modern Languages received scant attention, but I look upon the work which we did as of more value than what we did not. Our studies were directed to this one end, which was to enable us at the age of eighteen or nineteen to write Greek and Latin composition in prose and verse. Many sneers have been bestowed upon this curriculum, and it is easy to make cheap jokes on its apparent uselessness. I have always felt that Greek and Latin composition filled one purpose in education which at present is hardly served in any other way. The teacher wishes to develop the constructive powers of the children. He wishes to render his scholars intellectually independent--that is, able to think for themselves. He mistrusts the growth of a receptive attitude in his class. He knows the readiness with which a mind may be stored with facts, and the temptation which he is under to take advantage of this facility, and the encouragement that the modern education with its commercial value affords to this kind of instruction. The end of school training used not to be to furnish the scholar with the maximum of useful knowledge. The true end of it was to communicate or strengthen force of mind. The true end of education is a being and not a having. It matters more what you are than what you know when you leave school. Now it is precisely this independent mental activity which is encouraged by composing in Greek or Latin. No amount of mere learning by heart or going over other people's discoveries will enable a boy to turn out a set of Greek Iambics or Latin Elegiacs. However poor the results, they are the produce of independent efforts. The writer can always say what Touchstone said of Audrey in all humility, "A poor thing, sir, but my own." Composition being abolished, it appears to me that an effective substitute has yet to be invented.
I was, however, home for the holidays, as I said, and about holidays I have a word to add. Life at a public school is to be compared to the movement of the sea, rather than to the course of a river. It does not resemble a steady continuous flow, so much as the alternation of high and low tides. There comes three months of work, increasing in intensity and excitement towards the end, when a competitive examination stimulates even the lazy to unlooked-for exertions. Then follow a few weeks' holiday, during which animal spirits usually have free play. This tidal life certainly produces a marked influence on the character, and is possessed of advantages and disadvantages. Supposing that a lad, when he leaves school, has to pursue some calling where his work will never be such as to strain him in any way, but which demands exceeding regularity and affords hardly any opportunity for prolonged holiday, he will certainly find that his school life will have given him a distaste for his occupation which it will take him some trouble to overcome. On the other hand, my experience is that if a boy is brought up at home, where his regular routine of life and play makes his life flow on like a stream of oil, the defect then is that he grows up incapable of making any special effort when circumstances demand it, and that he is liable to miss golden opportunities of being useful, because he cannot exceed his wonted modicum of toil. I expect that the reaction which follows after a busy man has been idle for a few weeks, enables him to achieve far more in the end than if he had pursued a steady even routine of work in which the effort made was never severe, but always constant and uninterrupted. In fact, I think that in all success there is an element of excess. Anyhow, after some experience of both manners of living, I say, "Commend me to the public school life, with its ebb and flow, its strain and stress followed by relaxation, rather than the dull, tame, lazy meanderings of the placid stream of domestic education."
The revolving year had brought round the summer term, and with it the temptation to spend all our pocket-money in strawberries and cream, or vanilla ices, and, as in the world, society divided itself into total abstainers, moderate consumers, and gluttons, the mean, being according to Aristotle's estimate, of average goodness. I think I was very fond of strawberry ice, and I am glad that I had perfect freedom in respect to over-indulgence. It was good practice in learning to resist temptation, and no one can learn to swim without plunging into the water.
The chief excitement of the long summer days was cricket. House was matched against house, and during the ties the rival houses were pretended enemies. The sense of union with others was excited in an extraordinary degree. For the honour of his house there was scarcely anything which a member of it would not undergo. But even the strength of this local feeling seemed as weakness when compared with the sentiment aroused by the annual match between an eleven of the school against an eleven of another school. To anyone who has never felt it, this passionate devotion to the name of his school is incomprehensible, and must ever remain inexplicable. I should venture to take exception to an opinion expressed by Professor James Ward that "our playgrounds powerfully promote manliness and loyalty, but they do nothing to enlighten, and still less to expand, (this) youthful zeal to do and suffer for common ends." The famous battle picture, "Floreat Etona," by Lady Butler, in which young officers are riding to face death with this cry on their lips, is proof, which is unneeded by public schoolboys themselves, that the lesson of self-devotion for a common cause is indelibly impressed at a public school, and that its origin is consciously present to the mind in after years during supreme moments.
Well, it will be said, at any rate you enjoyed your school-life. Did not this regular round of work and play make you and your companions all as like as peas or cells in a honeycomb? If you had any special tastes had you any opportunity of cultivating them? If the masters controlled your time in school, and the boys took possession of your leisure, was not your mind enslaved as by a double set of tyrants? My answer is that it needs determination and tact to live in any society and yet remain master of your individual pursuits. In a public school it is no easier, but certainly no harder, to do this than in any other society. For myself, I enjoyed an hereditary taste for the study of flowers, and I experienced no difficulty, although at first some opposition, in pursuing my bent. In process of time the combination of a few kindred spirits led to the formation of a school scientific association, which has, I believe, continued to this day, about a quarter of a century.
"As to leisure, I unconsciously followed Pope Gregory's advice to his mission in England when they complained that their hard work left them no time to say their prayers. "Surge manius, ora citius," wrote he--"Rise earlier and pray more betimes." A tramp in the dewy meadows at six o'clock on a summer morning is no bad preparation for a day's work. I discovered the habitat of almost every flowering plant within two hours' run of the school clock. So far as I can judge, special faculties are more likely to be discovered and developed in a life at school than in the course of training in a family. Sydney Smith condemns parents for exposing their children to the pressure exerted upon them a school by the comrades surrounding them. "The strongest only survive," he says, "like trees in a forest. It is cruel to submit a growing child to such a vegetable struggle." My own observation leads me to believe that even in a family one member is very likely to tread the life out of another, and this the more easily because members of a family cannot find their equals in age or strength. Then, again, very few families are perfect. In most of them there are certain defects which may be called family failings. Home education rather intensifies than corrects these weaknesses, whereas under the direct attack of playmates and the indirect influence of the spirit and tone of a community of boys, they either disappear or at least are subdued.
There are probably few (in my own experience not any) children who cannot do some thing better than other things. It is often said that a child's peculiarities can most readily be observed at home and the best of them cherished by parental solicitude. "How," it is said, "can a boy's special aptitudes be discovered at school, where the classes are large and the routine of work stereotyped? Might you not as well expect a drill sergeant to detect and further a special skill in waltzing as expect a classical master to discover and extend a taste for Sclavonic history in an apparently unpromising classical student?"
This objection is a very plausible one, but I have two answers, one theoretical and the other practical. As a question of theory, is it at all common to find parents possessed of very wide sympathies with studies and pursuits which are not their own? Is it not rather the rule that parents wish their children to grow up as like themselves as possible, only if it may be superior? The man of business does not as a rule encourage in his son a taste for literature, as is well shown in the amusing scene between Francis Osbaldistone and his father at the commencement of "Rob Roy." A barrister looks with regret on the tastes of a son who devotes himself to natural science, and a merchant is hardly likely to approve of his son pursuing a military career. If then a child has a taste which differs from those of his parents, there will be much difficulty in its coming to light at all, and quiet steady pressure will be exercised to eradicate it when it does appear. It is not often that a number of boys remain till they are grown up beneath their father's roof-tree, but this often happens with a family of girls. The lives of these last are apt to be dreary in the extreme, because, having different powers and tastes, only those of the family who have the same tastes as their parents receive effective encouragement. The others will appear to their parents as rather uninteresting and a little stupid. By attending school the growing child comes in contact with many other minds, both those of his companions and those of his numerous teachers. What is missing in the home will be found at school, and the merchant's son with a taste for a military career will find his aspirations honoured instead of being repressed, the son of literary parents will meet with those who sympathise with him in his desire for a practical life, whether engineering or a colonial career or what not, while the son of the man of the world will find his hopes for a life as a minister in his church respected and encouraged. On the whole, so far as I see, a child stands a better chance of developing himself according to his natural bent if he goes to school than if he is educated at home.
Theoretically, then, I believe individual talent has a better chance of unconstrained cultivation at school. My recollection of what I saw among my comrades, leads me to think that my theory is borne out by my experience. In spite of the narrowness of the curriculum which I have described, I recall boys distinguished themselves afterwards in careers that had no direct support in a classical education, such as History, Science, and Art. I do not feel at liberty to mention names, but behind the general description there are in my mind the names of particular boys and men. "Individual men," says Kant, "cannot train children completely, man must be educated by mankind." This is true. The training in a large family is better than that in a small one, but best of all is the training in a great school, because in such a place there is a greater approximation than in a family to the education of many by mankind.
Let me now pass on to the period of school life when I became one of the big boys, and as such was invested with a little brief authority; when friendships which I made were lasting and lifelong; when the various able men whom I listened to, whether as lecturers, preachers, or teachers, began to inspire me with ideas and to stimulate thought; when the time came for me to learn that I was possessed of powers which might be turned to the good of others. A friend of my father's wrote to commend a young boy to my supervision. "As others helped you when you were a 'new boy,' remember now that you are in the 'sixth form' you may return their kindness by being serviceable to fresh comers." "Well," it may be said, "and will you let us know what you could do by being thus placed at a very early age in loco parentis?" There were two ways in which I learnt to help others--one was by protecting and the other by advising. Protection was comparatively easy. It was no difficult matter to tell heedless boys that it was "hard line" to amuse themselves at the expense of a delicate boy or a cripple, and a few words at the right time and in the right spirit would suffice to make the life of such a boy quite comfortable among his companions. Warning was a much harder matter. I reflected thus: "Boys must lead their own lives, choose their own friends, and by what right should you set yourself up as judge? Your interference must be an impertinence, and as such rightly resented." In this matter, being strongly influenced by a sermon preached from the school pulpit, in which the preacher earnestly declaimed, "You are your brother's keeper," I reflected that there was all the difference between taking a pleasure in setting others to rights and finding an opportunity for hinting to an inexperienced new-comer that he was falling into uncommonly bad company. How far my service may have been of any use to others I do not know, but the attempts which I made were of immense importance to myself, because I learnt from them the duty of undertaking responsibilities for the good of others, which is the base of public spirit.
I think the effect of sermons to boys may easily be underestimated. It is sometimes said that boys at home can learn just as much from hearing the discourses which are addressed to general congregations as they can from those which are specially addressed to them in a school chapel. My recollection is the opposite. I noticed that even boys supposed to be thoughtless would discuss the Sunday sermon in a manner that showed attention and intelligence. School sermons also are frequently founded upon some incident of school life, and where, as often happens, these are impressive, the words are remembered because they are associated with a memorable event. How can I ever forget my early horror of the sight of the slums of London which I traversed on my way to school, or the ardent appeal of a famous London missionary in the school pulpit to help to remedy these evils? How deeply impressed I was by the suggestions from the pulpit that there was a wider life than any that I ever heard spoken of in my own home, where some of us might possibly have important duties to undertake--duties as clergymen among the poor at home, duties as missionaries among the uncivilized nations abroad, duties in India, duties in the Colonies, and in many other positions in life where the first thought must be, not to promote your own interests, but those of others. I think Count Moltke is more than justified in approving the moral training of English public schools. "What pleases me most," says he, "in the English mode of education is that lying is treated not only as an offence but as a disgrace, a habit unworthy of a gentleman."
There is one characteristic of the public school pulpit, so far as I know it, which goes deeper here than appears at first. Much preaching which I have heard elsewhere has been of this type--"Do this because God commands it." Whereas the higher kind of preaching is of this type "Do this because it is right, and God commands what is right." In the former the preacher speaks of God as a benevolent tyrant or monarch; in the latter as the author and approver of all that is good. It is a higher principle to fear wrong as wrong than to fear it out of respect to a command from a superior. It is more effective in conduct because the wrong which is done as a violation of a principle cannot ever be looked on as right, while wrong done which is regarded as the violation of a command may appear not to be wrong in itself, but liable to be condoned by the dictator of the command, and thus cease to be wrong.
Think we, like some weak prince, the Eternal Cause Prone, for His favourites, to reverse His laws?
I have not said more about preaching than enough to establish the fact that it played an immense part in making up the whole which I am trying to present to you--namely, life in a public school, and that, combined with daily events, the pulpit tended to make boys think more of their duties than their privileges, an important fact, when it is remembered that boys whose parents have wealth or rank are apt to be spoilt in this matter by their mothers and the servants and even by their fathers.
From taking charge of a few boys informally entrusted to my care the transition to undertaking at certain times the discipline and order of a whole house at meal times or in the evenings in the absence of the master is not very great. At any rate this is the duty which most boys entered upon towards the last year or two of their school life.
Sydney Smith has strongly condemned the kind of character which he says this practise leads to. He says that in after life such as have held these places are conceited, unconciliatory to others, and without the anxiety for self-improvement that is the result of modesty in youth. I hardly think, however, that with most boys the duty of controlling others is undertaken with feelings of elation. Except to a very few it is far pleasanter to escape responsibility for the behaviour of others. Most know by experience that it is hard to criticize others without incurring an imputation of arrogance. A boy knows what a difficult task he has to find fault with others in such a way that his mode of doing it cannot be found fault with itself. He knows how difficult it is to have to judge when his interference is necessary and when it is impertinent. Being in the position of one who is himself under control, and yet at the same time obliged to control others, he learns the ideal of citizenship in the ideal republic, ability to govern or to be governed as the State may require.
Even however, if the monitor of a public school is made as conceited as Sydney Smith supposes, I think a readiness to undertake responsibility is a most useful disposition to acquire, and that the public school system does well in promoting it. I shall never forget early in my new office sitting at the head of some sixty boys during the dinner hour in the absence of the master, and having to be responsible for their order. Some of the bigger boys began to create a disturbance. It became my clear duty to dismiss one of them from the room. Was it any pleasure to me to exercise my authority? On the contrary, it cost me a great mental effort. That a boy stronger than myself should without any feeling of malice obey one of his comrades duly constituted the master's representative shows how much that is of real civic value could be imparted by the system without the harm arising which Sydney Smith condemns. For myself the sense of my own weakness was humiliating; my conquering my aversion to discharging the duties of my position was bracing. The behaviour of my companion was altogether that of a gentleman. He accepted my ruling as part of the system or conditions upon which he as a member of the school, thereby showing that he had learnt, a difficult lesson, to distinguish between authority and the person in authority, and to obey the former through the latter, to retain his sense of manly independence while bowing to the will of the community. The public schools have certainly produced some great statesmen, and if you study so well qualified a critic as Lord Beaconsfield, you will see that he, at any rate, attributes this to the life which is led there, and not to accident of birth or wealth.
fit he is to way,
I have purposely dwelt on the training of character which the public school affords, because this is much the most important part of life to most men. I have left little space to describe debating societies where crude discussions of the Reform Bill, the American Civil War, the Seven Weeks' War, Darwinism, the Game Laws, and the like stimulated thought; or the scientific society, where, among others, papers of boyish learning were read on the Flight of Birds and the Forms of Leaves; or lastly, Shakespeare reading clubs, which were not uncommon. Still less have I time to estimate what information I had actually acquired. I can only say that the teaching had not been wholly ineffective. It was a real pleasure to me at the time I left to spend leisure time in translating favourite passages from Shakespeare into Greek Iambics, and I was possessed of sufficient knowledge of Greek and Latin to pass my first University Examination without the aid of a crammer.
I will conclude with a few words of advice. I am often asked whether I recommend a boy to be sent to a public boarding school or not. No one can return an unqualified answer to this question, and I have tried to give my own experience, not as a guide, but as a contribution towards the practical solution of the question. Every person must form his own opinion for himself on such a matter, with the aid of such information as he can acquire.
If asked, then, "Shall I send my boy to a public school?" I answer, "Is your boy delicate, and considered unable to rough it among stronger companions? Then send him to a public school by all means; it will make a man of him." Again, "Has your boy the slightest capacity above the average? Hesitate not to send him to a public school." If the masters see their way to winning a scholarship through assiduous cultivation of his brains, it will not be their fault if his spark of intelligence is not fanned into a flame. But if your son is a strong healthy lad, with no particular predilection for any study or calling, if he is destined not perhaps to a life of opulent idleness, which was Sydney Smith's provision for public schoolboys, but for a family living, or a place in the family counting-house, then beware how you trust him to the public school system, or if you do send him, watch his progress narrowly, and test it occasionally by independent examination; otherwise you may find that at the end of four uneventful years the head master may write, when you wish to transfer the boy from school to a University, "Tomkins is a sweet fellow; he will hardly pass his matriculation examination, but he is simply the best head of the football eleven we have had since Smithson." Athletes are the heroes of their schools, and often the pets of their masters; but when it comes to the severe game of life I do not observe that cricket or football helps them earn their own living; and unless they develop powers of application to work in maturer years they stand at a disadvantage when compared with better taught contemporaries.
If I followed my inclination, I should conclude my remarks with a rhapsody about public school life as resembling an auriferous mine, in which, deep down below the surface, amidst bruising rocks and much stamped-up mire, there are to be won particles of gold, pure gold, precious to the finder and the world, but such enthusiasm is apt to appear the offspring of a fond delusion, and therefore I prefer to finish my remarks in a less lofty tone, in less of the "ercles vein." In public school life as I knew it a quarter of a century ago there were two great advantages, namely, the absence of too much interference on the part of the masters, and consequent opportunity for self-development. I realize vividly the danger of too much method in training, and wholly agree with Dr. Geikie that it is folly to attempt to straighten a pig's tail by putting it in splints.
I am wholly of opinion that education must largely be a matter of faith rather than sight, and that some risk is indispensable for the highest results in this as in almost every important business, and I do not know that anyone has better summed the matter up than Judge Denman, when he said that "if boys go to school they become sad dogs, but if they stay at home they remain poor devils."
Proofread by Brandy Vencel, Feb 2013
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