THE day after her visit to the minister, Mrs Mason took the first opportunity of speaking to Morison of the scheme which had been suggested. The colour which shot across his pallid cheek, and the animation which lighted up his languid eye, as he in mute attention listened to" the proposal, showed how deeply it interested him. His joy was, however, dashed by diffidence. He had not been trained to the business of teaching, and feared that it required abilities superior to his. While he expressed his thanks, and intimated his apprehensions, with a simplicity and candour peculiar to his character, his wife, who sympathised more deeply in his gratitude than in his fears, exhorted Mrs Mason never to mind what her gudeman said of himself; for that it was just his way, always to think lowlier of himself than he need do. ' I am sure,' continued she, ' that not a lord in all the land writes a more beautiful hand ; and as for reading, he mav compare wi' the minister himsel'! the kittlest word canna' stop him.' Observing Mrs Mason smile, she paused, and then good-humouredly added, ' I canna expect every ane to think as highly of my gudeman as I do \ but I am sure I may safely say, that baith for learning and worth he's equal to a higher post than being schoolmaster o' Glenburnie.'
'You are perfectly right,' cried Mr Gourlay, who had entered unobserved by anyone ; and I believe we are all of the same opinion with regard to your husband's merit. Nay, you need not blush at having praised him, unless indeed you are ashamed at being so unfashionable a wife.'
'O sir,' returned Peggy, blushing yet more deeply, ' we have nothing to do with fashion, but I hope we shall be grateful to God and our friends for all their kindness, and that you will prevail on William not to put from him such an advantage as this blessed offer.'
William, fearing that Mr Gourlay would misinterpret the reluctance hinted at, eagerly declared how joyfully he should accept the employment, did he consider himself fully qualified for discharging its duties ; but that his want of experience in the art of teaching destroyed his confidence, and rendered him hopeless of success.
'And it is upon that very circumstance that my hopes of your success are founded,' replied Mr Gourlay. 'You are not, I imagine, too proud to be advised?'
'No, indeed, sir, I am not,' cried William.
'Then, as you are not wedded to any particular method, you will honestly inquire, and candidly follow, what appears to be the best; nor obstinately refuse to adopt improvements that have been suggested by others, when their utility has been placed beyond a doubt. I do not say that you are at present qualified; I only say, that, by candid inquiry and vigilant attention, you will soon become qualified for the discharge of an office, the duties of which are, in my opinion, seldom understood. A country schoolmaster, who considers himself hired to give lessons in certain branches of learning, and, when he has given these, thinks he has done his duty, knows not what his duty is.'
'And what, sir, if I may take the liberty of asking, what, in your opinion, is the nature and extent of the duties incumbent on the schoolmaster who would conscientiously discharge his trust?'
'As a preliminary to the answer of your question,' replied the pastor, ' let me ask you, what is the end you aim at, in sending your children to school ?'
'I send them,' returned William, ' in order that they may learn to read and write, and cast accounts; all of which they might, to be sure, have learned from me at home, but not so well, because I could not have given them their lessons so regularly.'
'That is one reason, to be sure,' said Mr Gourlay, ' and a good one; but why do you wish them to be instructed in the branches you have mentioned?'
'I wish them to learn to read,' returned William, ' that their minds may be enlarged by knowledge, and that they may be able to study the Word of God, and I have them taught to write and cast accounts, that thay may have it in their power to carry on business, if it should be their lot to engage in any.'
'That is to say,' replied Mr Gourlay,' that you are anxious to give your children such instruction as may enable them faithfully to discharge their religious and social duties. Your object is laudable ; but it is not merely by teaching them to read and write that it is to be accomplished. If their minds are not in some degree opened, they will never use the means thus put into their hands ; and if their hearts are not in some degree cultivated, the means of knowledge will lead them rather to evil than to good. Even as to the art of reading, the acquirement of it will be useless, if the teacher has confined his instructions to the mere sounds of words, especially where these sounds are very different from those which we are accustomed to use in conversing with each other.'
'I confess, sir,' said William, ' I never could find out the reason why all the children at our schools are caught to roar, and sing out what they read, in such an unnatural tone; but as the custom is so universal, I thought there surely must be some use in it; and, indeed, I know many people who think it would not be decent, nor proper, to read the Bible without something of the same tone.'
'Nothing can be more absurd than such a notion,' returned Mr Gourlay \ ' for if we sincerely respect the Word of God, we ought to do all in our power to render it intelligible to ourselves and others. How else can we expect to profit by the instruction it conveys ? The mere sound, without the sense, will do us no more good than a tune on the bagpipes. Yet, if we are once taught at school to connect notions of piety with certain discordant accents, it is ten to one Lf we ever get so far quit of the impression, as to pay attention to the religious truths that are delivered with a natural and proper accent; while the greatest nonsense and absurdity, if conveyed to our ears in a solemn drawl, will pass for superior sanctity. It thus becomes easy for fools and hypocrites to impose on the credulity of the multitude.'
'But, sir,' said Mrs Mason, ' it is not by fools and hypocrites alone that these false tones are made the vehicles of instruction. Of all the excellent sermons given us by the gentlemen who assisted at your preachings, how few were delivered with such propriety as to do full justice to the sentiments they conveyed?'
'I cannot deny the truth of your observation,' returned Mr Gourlay. ' It is to be regretted that those who have early engaged in the study of the learned languages seldom consider the art of reading English an object worthy their attention. They, therefore, are at little pains to correct the bad method so generally acquired at country schools. With regard to our peasantry, the effects of that bad method are still more unfortunate : it frequently renders their boasted advantages of education useless. This would not be the case, did the schoolmaster consider it his duty to teach his pupils to read with understanding, and carefully to observe whether they know the meaning and import of the words they utter. This they never can do, if they are not taught to read distinctly, and as nearly as possible in the tone of conversation. Nor is this all; in order to reap instruction from what they read, their minds must be in a state to receive it. Were this attended to by the parents at home, the schoolmaster would have an easy task; but, instead of bestowing this necessary preparation, there seems to be, from the palace to the cottage, a combination among parents of all descriptions, to nurture in the minds of infants all those passions which reason and religion must be applied to subdue. The schoolmaster who lends his endeavours to remedy this evil, renders a more important service to the community than is in the power of any other public functionary. It should, therefore, be his first object to train his pupils to habits of order and subordination, not by means of terror, but by a firmness which is not incompatible with kindness and affection.'
'But how,' said Morison, ' without punishment, can order and subordination be enforced? and will not punishment beget terror, and terror beget aversion ? I should think that a severe schoolmaster never could be beloved, and I fear a lenient one would never be obeyed. This is my great difficulty.'
'Did you ever know a child complain of being punished when sensible that the punishment was just?' replied Mr Gourlay. ' No; there is a sense of justice implanted in the human mind, which shows itself even in the first dawn of reason, and would always operate, were it not stifled by the injudicious management of parents, who do not punish according to justice, but according to caprice. Of this the schoolmaster, who follows a well-digested plan, will never be guilty. He will be careful to avoid another common error of parents, who often, by oversight, lead their children to incur the penalty, and then enforce it, when in reality it is they, and not the children, who ought to pay the forfeit. I should pronounce the same sentence on the master, who punished a boy at school for playing or making a noise, if it appeared that he had provided him with no better employment. This is the great fault in all our country schools. The children spend three-fourths of their time in downright idleness, and when fatigued with the listlessness of inaction, have no other resource but in making noise or doing mischief.'
' But surely, sir,' said William, 1 the master cannot hear them all say their lessons at once?'
'True,' replied Mr Gourlay; ' but while he hears one may not the others be at work the while ? I will show you a book written by one Mr David Manson, a schoolmaster in the north of Ireland, which contains an account of what he calls his play-school; the regulations of which are so excellent, that every scholar must have been made insensibly to teach himself, while he all the time considered himself as assisting the master in teaching others. All were thus at the same time actively engaged; but so regulated as to produce not the least confusion or disturbance.'
Mr Morison expressed great satisfaction in having such assistance offered him with regard to the method of teaching, and begged Mr Gourlay still farther to oblige him by giving his opinion on the moral instruction which it was the duty of a schoolmaster to convey.
In reply to this, Mr Gourlay observed that the school in which the greatest number of moral habits were acquired, would certainly be the best school of moral instruction. ' Every person capable of reflection attaches great importance to what we call good principles,' continued the worthy pastor; ' now what are good principles but certain truths brought habitually to recollection as rules of conscience and guides of conduct ? Our knowledge of all the truths of revelation can be of no further use to us than as they are thus, by being habitually referred to, wrought into the frame of our mind, till they become principles ot action and motives of conduct. By a mere repetition of the words in which these truths are conveyed, this will never be effected. The teacher, therefore, who wishes that his instructions may have the force of principles, must endeavour to bring the truths he inculcates into such constant notice, that they may become habitual motives to the will. In a school where there is no order, no subordination, a boy may read lessons of obedience and self-government, day after day, without having any impression made upon his mind. Has he learned to steal and to tell lies; occasional punishment will not be sufficient to enforce the principles of truth and honesty. In order to convert sincerity and integrity into abiding habits of the mind, the love of these virtues must be strengthened by a conviction of the estimation in which they are held by God and man. Falsehood and dishonesty must be rendered objects of abhorrence; and this they will soon become if constantly and regularly attended by shame and disgrace. This comes to be the more incumbent on the schoolmaster, because (I am sorry to say it) lying is too generally considered by the poor as a very slight offence, or rather indeed as an excusable artifice, often necessary, sometimes even laudable. It is truly shocking to find the prevalence of this vice in a country that boasts of the degree of instruction given to the poor. But where shall we find the tradesman on whose word one can depend with confidence? Is it among the enthusiasts who pretend to the greatest portion of religious zeal ? No. Go to the next town and bespeak a pair of shoes of one of these saints; will he not solemnly promise that they shall be made by a certain day, while he, in his conscience, knows they will not then have had a single stitch put into them? So it is with tradesmen in every branch of business. And has this want of probity no effect upon the moral character? Is it consistent with the belief of our being accountable to the God of truth ? And were the doctrine of our being thus accountable wrought into our minds as an abiding principle, would it be possible that it should have no greater effect upon our actions ? Remember, that you being called to the office of instruction, you are bound to do all that is in your power to lead the little children unto Him who declared, that for this end He came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. With this impression constantly'on your mind, you need be under no apprehensions concerning the success that will attend your labours.'
Morison warmly expressed the gratitude he truly felt for the instructions of his good pastor, and declared himself convinced by his arguments of the nature and extent of the duties he had to perform; but added, that, so far from being deterred, he was more inclined than ever to undertake the task, provided Mrs Mason would become his coadjutor in the instruction of the girls, for which she should have half the salary of the school. To this proposal Mrs Mason cheerfully agreed; and as the heritors had, with one consent, determined to leave the choice of a schoolmaster to the minister, Morison soon received a regular appointment to the office; orders being at the same time issued to prepare the school-house and the premises attached, for the reception of his family.
While the repairs were under consideration, Mrs Mason received a visit from Mj Stewart, who gladdened her heart by a letter which had been directed to his care. At the first glance she saw that it had come from Italy, and that the cover had been directed by Lady Harriet Bandon. The tears of joy which burst from her eyes prevented her for some moments from proceeding to read the contents. They were such as increased her emotion of gratitude and tenderness. She clasped her hands, and looking up to heaven, blessed the God of mercies for having preserved the family to whom she was devoted in attachment, and for having bestowed on them such hearts as would render them blessings to the world. She then showed Mr Stewart the letter, which contained the most cordial assurances of the never-ceasing regard and affection of her beloved pupils, and a short account of their tour, with special injunctions to send them, in return, a particular account of her health, and of all that had happened to her since they parted. A postscript was added by Mr Merriton, requesting that she would lay out the remittance he enclosed of twenty pounds, in doing all the good that such a trifle could effect. By thus putting it in her power to gratify her benevolence, the writer well knew he was affording the most delicate proof of his regard. As such Mrs Mason received it; but she now found that Mr Stewart was commissioned to make the comfort of her situation a first object of attention. Her annuity was to be increased, if necessary, to even double the sum at first promised her; but she declined accepting any more than was sufficient for the purchase of some additional articles of furniture for the habitation to which she was soon to remove.
The house allotted to the village teacher was large, but so ill planned as to be incommodious and uncomfortable. The alterations suggested by Mrs Mason removed these objections, and were favourable to her plans of order and cleanliness. A useless appendage, which projected by the back-door entrance, and which had hitherto been the receptacle of dirt and rubbish, was converted into a nice scullery, where the washing of clothes or dishes was carried on, so that the kitchen was kept always neat and clean. The two little girls had now acquired such a taste for neatness, and such habits of activity, that they not only took unwearied pains to make everything appear to the best advantage in the kitchen and parlour, which were often liable to be seen by strangers, but were so orderly and regular in their exertions, that, from the garrets downwards, not a pile of dust found a resting-place where it might remain unmolested.
Those who had known the house in its former condition were amazed at the transformation, and could scarcely believe that such a change could be effected without the help of enchantment. Nor was it to the inside of the house that the transformation was confined ; without doors it was perhaps still more remarkable. The school-house being set back from the street, left an area of the width of ten or twelve yards in front of the house; and on this convenient spot the former incumbent had erected a pig-sty, and piled up a nasty dunghill. Every shower of rain washed part of the contents into the unpaved footpath, through which the children paddled ankle-deep in mud up to the school-room door. But they were used to it, and no one in the village had ever objected to the inconvenience.
Morison having removed the incumbrances, sowed the area with grass-seeds, and round it made a border to be filled 'with flowers and shrubs. It was then railed in, leaving a road up to the school, and an entrance, by a neat wicker gate, to the front door of the dwelling-house. Planting, watering, and rearing the shrubs and flowers which ornamented the borders of the grass-plot, became the favourite amusement of the elder school-boys; and, being the reward of good behaviour, was considered as a mark of favour which all were ambitious to obtain.
The school-room had been left in a ruinous condition ; the tables and benches broken or disfigured; the plaster in some places peeled off the walls, and in others scrawled over with chalk or ochre; the panes of the windows broken and stuffed with rags; and the floor covered with such a thick paste of dirt, that it was not till after much hard labour that the pavement was rendered visible.
All was now put in complete repair, and on the first of May the school opened with forty scholars. The twenty-five boys, and the fifteen girls, who made up this number, came pouring in pell-mell, in the disorderly manner to which they had been formerly accustomed ; and observing that the desks and bcnches were not yet placed, they were proceeding in groups rudely to seize on them, but were arrested by the master, who commanded silence in a tone of such authority as forced attention. Having formed them into a circle round his chair, he explained to them that the school was henceforth to be governed by rules, to which he would exact the most complete obedience; and then examining the boys as to their respective progress, he formed them into separate classes, making the girls meantime stand apart.
The boys were then led out of the school, that they might then make their entrance in proper order. Those of the first class taking the lead, were directed how to clean their feet upon the scraper and well-bound wisps of straw, which served instead of mats. They next placed for themselves their forms and benches, opposite a double slip of wood fixed to the wall, marked No. i, and stuck full of pegs for their hats to hang on; the second and third classes marched in, each in their turn, and took their places in equal order. Mrs Mason meanwhile allotted to the girls their proper stations, near her chair at the upper end of the schoolroom, where they were concealed from view by a screen, which formed a sort of moveable partition between them and the boys.
At first several of the children were refractory, and many symptoms of a mutinous disposition appeared; but by patience and perseverance all were so completely brought into subjection, that by the time the minister visited the school, at the conclusion of the first month, all the plans he had suggested were completely carried into execution. Each of the three classes were, according to Manson's method, divided into three distinct orders, viz., landlord, tenants, and under-tenants. The landlord prescribed the lesson, which was to be received as rent from his tenants; each of the tenants had one or two under-tenants, who were in like manner bound to pay him a certain portion of reading or spelling lesson; and, when the class was called up, the landlord was responsible to the master, as superior lord, not only for his own diligence, but for the diligence of his vassals. The landlord, who appeared to have neglected his duty, or who permitted the least noise or disturbance in his class, was degraded to the rank of an under-tenant. It was, therefore, his interest not to permit any infringement of the rules. When these were in any instance broken, it became his duty to inform the master, who called the culprit before him, attended by the landlord and tenants of his class. If the tenants who formed his jury found him guilty of the charge, sentence of punishment was immediately pronounced. If idleness was the crime, the culprit was obliged to sit in a corner, having his eyes blindfolded, and his hands tied across; if disobedience had been proved against him, he was imprisoned in a large chair turned to the wall; and if noise, he was obliged to carry a drum upon his back round the school. Nor after punishment did a boy immediately regain his rank; he was obliged to sit apart from his companions the whole of the following day, without being permitted, while in disgrace, to look upon a book. All the lads, especially those who were at a more advanced period, found this species of punishment more intolerable than any manual chastisement that could have been inflicted; and the consequence of this was highly favourable to the master's views.
Mr Gourlay, having examined the state of each class, distributed to the landlords and head-tenants the premiums provided by Mrs Mason, who devoted to this use part of the money sent by Mr Merriton. These consisted of light hoes, small spades, and other implements of gardening, together with parcels of flower-seed suited to the season of the year. He next visited the girls' school, where, extraordinary as it may appear, Mrs Mason had encountered greater difficulties than had occurred to Morison in the execution of his task. She had, indeed, since her residence in Glenburme, frequently observed that the female children of the poor had far less appearance of intelligence and sagacity than the males of the same age; and could not otherwise account for this than by supposing that their education had been more neglected. This, as far as schooling was concerned, was not the case; but while the boys, by being constantly engaged either in observing the operations that were going on without-doors, or in assisting them, had their attention exercised and their observation called forth, the girls, till able to spin, were without object or occupation. After the first week the labour of the wheel became mechanical, and required no exertion of the mental faculties. The mind, therefore, remained inert; and the power of perception, from being so long dormant, became at length extinct. The habits acquired by such beings were not easily to be changed; for nothing is so intractable as stupidity.
But Mrs Mason having discovered the root of the disease, judiciously applied proper remedies. It was her first care to endeavour to rouse the sleeping faculties. To effect this, she not only contrived varieties of occupation, but made all the girls examine and sit in judgment on the work that was done. Considering the business of household work as not merely useful to girls in their station as an employment to which many of them would be devoted, but as a means of calling into action their activity and discernment, she allotted to them, by pairs, the task of cleaning the school-room; and on Saturday the two girls who had best performed the duties assigned them were promoted to the honour of dusting and rubbing the furniture of her parlour. As to the rest, the morning was devoted to needle-work, the afternoon to instruction in reading; but whether at the needle or book, she rendered their tasks easy and cheerful by the pleasantness of her manners, which were always kind and affectionate.
When Mr Gourlay distributed the rewards prepared for the girls whose behaviour had been most approved, he expressed great approbation at their progress ; and particularly noticed their improvement in personal neatness and good-breeding, which assured him of the attention they were likely to pay to the instruction of their teacher in points still more essential, and concluded by giving a suitable exhortation.