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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Eleven


"Flureat Academta,
Mater alma noster pia,
Huicparavius hanc amainus
Ergo fortiter canamus,
Floreat Academta!'

Henry Johnstone.

1846 - 52

At' the Edinburgh Academy, to which I was sent when I left Circus Place School, I was in my first session fortunate Dr.Cummmg.who in the following year went to take up a better appointment, was my preceptor—kindly, just, and inspiring, to whom we boys looked up with genuine-regard. He could punish as well as others, but no one ever felt that he got more than he deserved, or that the doctor was working off his temper, and not doing what he felt to be a duty. His memory is revered by those who were under him, and for fifty years the few who remained of his former pupils met annually, and not one had a corner in his heart from which his old master was excluded. Oh, how different he was to some others whom I do not name, and of whom I will only say now, that I believe they did not know how unfit they were to deal with young boys. A little less learning, and a little more common sense, and our ignorances would not have made them so frantic, and they would not have inflicted punishments which were silly. Oh, those nonsensical poems—those orders to write out three or even five hundred lines; a punishment as practical as the old prison crank, which was abandoned as being a useless and therefore demoralising punishment. What better mode could be invented to make a boy hate classical study than to burden the scholar with a task purely mechanical, degrading the classics, and of no conceivable utility, forcing him to use the time when he was expected to be preparing his work for next day in doing what could not benefit himself or anybody else, and making all the labours of the writing -master futile, by causing thousands of words to be scribbled anyhow, at utmost speed of the pen—they could not be written in a style that would please him. What senseless insult to a poet like Virgil, to make his beautiful lines an instrument of torture. No better way could be taken to crush out all prospect of a love of classical literature developing in youth. This punishment was brought to us from England, along with that acrne of conceit which ordered the pronunciation of Latin as it was modern English, an absurdity which it is satisfactory to know is now a thing of the past. Whether the writing is still considered a sensible and useful punishment I do not know, but if it' still survives, an old man asks to be allowed to make his earnest protest, and to beg of those who are over our grandsons to consider whether something less contrary to good sense cannot be found as a substitute. Corporal punishment even would be less contrary to reason, and any plucky boy would rather bear a few "palmies" than be subjected to so hateful a penalty as scribbling for hours in meaningless recording of thousands of mere words.

The Academy, which owed us origin to Lord Cockburn and Leonard Horner, and was encouraged by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Jeffrey, had established itself well when I first became a Grit, (if that is the proper way to spell it). Archdeacon Williams was the Rector, as he had been from the opening. He had given up his post some years before, but was brought back. His successor had been a certain Dr. Sheepshanks, who tradition says proved hopeless as a disciplinarian, and had to retire, probably being glad to go. It may give an idea of the state of things during his year of office to quote what was retailed to me by an old Academy boy. An upper class, which was taught by the Rector, had been directed to write some English verses on the Satires—at leastl presume theire's were intended. But however that was, a youth wrote, and handed to the Rector the following:

"The Satyrs of old were Satyrs of note,
With the head of a man and the legs of a goat;
But the Satyrs of our day all Satyrs surpass,
With the shanks of a sheep and the head of an ass."

The Archdeacon, whom I remember well, was a kindly man, and popular with us all. He kept up the dignity of his office, but being no prig, I have seen him when crossing the yards, if a football came towards him—which happened probably by intention—run his two or three paces towards it, and with a smile on his face, put all the momentum of his ponderous form into his kick, drawing a cheer from all in sight. Ponderous he was, very rotund in build. I can recall a piece of boys doggerel, quite as good as the nursery nonsense of "Hey, diddle diddle," and with much more point, and which referred to the Archdeacon, and named three other masters—the classical, Carmichael (senior); the mathematical, Gloag; and the writing, Hamilton. It ran thus:

"Fat Punch likes his lunch;
Greasy Gloag likes to flog;
Hairy Hammy likes to pammie;
Caesar, Csesar quod—because
Bowsy Carmichael's lost his tawse."

I have no doubt chat if I had repeated this flppant verse to my elders, I would have been told that in their day "boys respected their teachers"; and I have no doubt that many parents of today would assert with confidence that "our boys" would not do such a thing as to write Disrespectful lines about their masters at school. Well, I will only say, I "hae ma doots'' about recollection in the one case, and about knowledge in the other. Boys will do such things, but they do not do them with a meaning which is malicious or vindictive, any more than there is a desire to injurei;n the little mischievous tricks they sometimes indulge in. In any boy who has real life in him, and an active brain, something of Puck may be expected to show itself, whether in saying or doing. If he has any spirit, he cannot be a model of discretion. Let him have a light rein, and let him frisk a bit; do not hold him a reprobate because he flings his heels now and again. Keep severe censure for what is real offence—what is delinquency, as distinguished from exuberance. Let the former be dealt with firmly. The latter is an effervescence, and wiII pass away.

Our classes at the Academy were large—as I feel convimced now, much too large. One teacher of sixty or seventy boys could neither keep them in his eye to observe their behaviour, nor give a fair share of aid to each, The result was that the smart, clever, and more studious boys formed a set by themselves, and a long string farther down constituted to him what the huntsman would call "a rubbishing tail," ministration to whom was a weariless to the flesh and a waste of energy; for time did not permit that one teacher should really instruct such a number, or train them for life— not the least part of the schoolmaster is province. Another evil was that each class advanced to a new course of study as a new school year came round, and this under the same master, so that only those could make the second step who had mounted and stood firm upon that of the previous year, and the teacher only expected these to do him any credit. thus the start was made with a reversed handicap, Those who had been left behind in the race were started for the second race over more difficult ground, some distance behind, at the very commencement. This tended to cause all struggle to improve to seem hopeless, and the master being the same as before, could not be expected to provide fresh propulsive power. The failures of the last session were apt to be accepted as hopelessly out of the running. It is difficult to see now it could have been otherwise. Boys were run on from the Delectus to Cresar, from Caesar to Livy, to Virgil, to Horace, and to Tacitus and Goero, getting through but a fraction of each; and while still but poor hands at Latin were rushed in Greek to Xenophon and on to Homer, and even to AEschylus, gaining a loose smattering of the classics, but in nine cases out of ten receiving no real cultivation, and remaining quite unable to appreciate the beauties of Horace or the grandeur of Homer. I can use the words of Lord Cockburn to describe the situation, when he speaks of the "weariness of sitting six hours a day stairing idly at a page. ... The beauty of no Roman word, or thought, or action, ever occurred to me! nor did I ever fancy that Latin was of any use, except to torture boys." He states that he was "driven stupid." Well may the poet (Young) speak of

"Petrifying a genius to a dunce."

I can well recall that the first time at which I found a real delight in my Horace was when I sat down to study him, after I was of age, in preparation for my examination for the Bar. The charm of the Odes was like a revelation to me. What had been uninteresting when brought to a boy as a task for drudgery, before real appreciation was possible, became delightfully fascinating when its qualities disclosed themselves with a new light on them. What was before something to be got through somehow, had become a source of real pleasure. How many thousands of boys were in those days turned against classical literature, by the writers of beautiful works both in prose and poetry of Rome and of Greece, being associated in their memory with much that was disagreeable; they being to the young mind not comprehensible, and therefore unpalatable, and associated with disagreeable inflictions. The mothers who feed infant children on adults' food—pork sausage and saveloys—are looked upon as unnatural and cruel. There is a corresponding cruelty in forced feeding of young boys on literature that is sweet to the palate of the Oxford graduate who is set to teach, and who loses his temper over their blunders, and stamps with rage at a false quantity. I well remember at an examination at the close of the session—when Directors sat at a table covered with red bake— hearing a fellow-scholar, who was reading from Horace, say romancte presso. The preceptor made a rush across the room, with his book clenched, to administer a box on the ear, and shouted: "Oh, you abominable b—when suddenly realising the occasion, he stopped before the word "boy was out, and got very red. I am afraid we laughed, and I am not quite sure that the worthy listening Directors understood the scene, or were aware of the cause of our suppressed hilarity. How many false quaint ties, much less excusable, have I had to listen to from men, spoken of as "learned." I have heard the following. In the House of Commons an honourable and learned member spoke of a simulacrum of a Bill, and when the laugh subsided, he indignantly exclaimed, "Well. I suppose I am entitled to pronounce an English word in any way I like." On another occasion, in the Court of Session, the words ultrapetita in a Petition had by a blunder been printed with an "o" instead of an "a" at the end, and the learned counsel read the phrase ultra petito, to the astonishment of the Bench. Not long ago, in my own Division, one of the learned told us that a certain thing was the origo mali in the case. Unius is often a trap for the unwary. A sad case occurred once, when a youth came up for his preliminary examination as an intrant for the Bar, he having had no training in the classics, and having worked up his Laun by personal study, without any tutorial help. What were the sensations of the examiners, when an Ode being pre-scr bed to him, he calmly read out: "Eheu, Ehue, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume"!

Of course a false quantity strikes on the ear as does a false note, and when the reading is of a poetcal effusion, grates terribly on those who know the rhythm. But is a young boy deserving of violence, or an order to write out lines in hundreds because he makes a mistake, when probably his whole thought has been concentrated on working out grammatical construction and translation, and the passage has never addressed itself to him rhythmically at all? Do not we know, too, that quantities in words can alter with general acceptance, and the new quantity give no offence to the ear? Instances are the word revenue, which only pedants now call revenue, and balcony, which we are told should be pronounced balcony, but which a determined public insists successfully on pronouncing as balcony. I venture to repeat a well-known story of that sardonic wit, John Clerk of Eldin, who on one occasion in the House of Lords was pleading the case of a curator bonis, which, according to classical reading, would be pronounced long, but which had in the course of centuries come to be pronounced short in Scotland, as being the name of an office in modern operation. Clerk having spoken of the curator boris, the Lord Chancellor in pompous tone said: "Curator, I suppose you mean, Mr,. Clerk." John, without a moment's hesitation, replied: "I'm vera proud to be correctit in my quantities by such a splendid orator, such a biuliant legislator, and such a learned senator, as yer lordship," dwelling long on the "a" in each word.* History does not tell how the great man looked., and it may safely be guessed that he never told anyone how he felt. But I beg that it will not be supposed that I suggest that in the actual reading of an ancient language attention to correct quantity is not called for. It certainly ;s called for. But when single words have come to be used iin a modern language, it is pedantry not to pronounce them as accepted custom prescribes.

Although not exactly apropos, I ask leave to tell of an incident in which an amusing false quantity occurred. There sin the "laigh" Parliament House, now part of the Advocates Library, a very characteristic statue of Walter Scott in his homely dress, and with his walking-stick between his knees. On the plinth in front the words are carved: "Sic sedcbat" A party of tourists, walking through the Iibrary, had their attention called to the statue, at which they gazed in wonder how so plain a style of man should be honoured by having his carved image put in a place of distinctlon. One at length said: "'Sic Sedebat,' who was he now? It is not recorded whether the party came from the United States. If they did, and had they learned to whom the words Sic sedebat applied, it's only justice to them to say that they would have been interested. For, alas, they know their Walter Scott better than do many of our own race. Forgive me, reader. One story leads to another; the scene not very far from "Sic sedebat. he placeof John Knox burial in Parliament Square a marked by a circle enclosing brass letters  standing for "John Knox." A party of Americans being brought into the Square in a cab, the driver stopped opposite the place, and pointing with his whip, said: "That's where John Knox is burnt." A voice, with Yankee twang, came from the cab: "Ah, waal now, who was this John Knox; what did he do that was wonderful, eh? The cabman was so taken aback that he turned sharp round, with a frown, saying: "Man! dae ye never read yer Bible?"

In the boys' doggerel which I quoted above, the words "Greasy Gloag" occurred. The word "greasy" was inserted for all tertative purposes, as was the expression "hairy" applied to Mr. Hamilton. Dr. Gloag, to whom the expression "greasy" referred, was a stout gentleman, but certaily did not earn the word as a fair description. He taught us arithmetic and mathematics, and he was one of the best teachers at the Academy. He joined it at the opening, and continued to teach for a long period of years, with never-flagging energy, and to good effect. He only failed with those in whose case success was impossible. With a stern sense of duty, he had a side for humour, whch he only let out occasionally. The best story told of him relates to an occasion when the Rector, Archdeacon Williams, came to the classroom on his tour of inspection. Dr. Gloag stopped the work that was going on, and wrote a proposition on the blackboard, saying, "Now, boys, let us see how quick you can work that out.'

The whole class took to their slates, and did their best, but no hand was held up. The Rector banteringly encouraged them, saying, "Can't you work that out?' in a tone which seemed to say that he saw the answer. All the while the old doctor stood by with an inscrutable face. At last he asked, "Do you all give it up?" All did, whereupon he exclaimed, "No wonder, and seizing the clothjand with a sly look at the Rector, rubbed the proposition out, adding: "Canna be done, canna be done." The Rector took it well, and all enjoyed a good laugh except the old doctor, who kept an expression which seemed to say that he was not sure whether he ought not to be ashamed of himself.

But the most characteristic anecdote of Dr. Gloag is one which I must tell at my own expense. Some years after I left the Academy, and when I was in the conceit of the young man state, I went down one day to the old school to "visit/' and when I went into the doctor's class, he came forward most affably to speak to me. He evidently did not recognise his former pupiI, and I reminded him, saying my name was Macdonald, and that my brother and I had been under him— naming the number of years before, thereupon, having been looking down and listening, he suddenly raised his head, and said, "Oh yes, yes, I remember ye, idle fallaws that ye were." I have been accused of inventing this story—all I can say is that I have not consciously concocted it. It is a true epitome of the man—kind but candid, and with a way of saying such a thing that ;t could not offend.

Dr. Gloag's reputation as a teacher is beyond cavil, seeing that two such really great men as Clerk Maxwell and Peter Guthrie Tait entered their student life well grounded by him. Their truly brilliant careers had their foundation laid sound and strong by him at the Academy.

When Archdeacon Williams finally left the Academy, he was succeeded by the Rev. Dr. Hannah, a kindly and refined gentleman, who earned the respect of all and the affection of many. He was still Rector when I left the school. During all my time it was managed on strict classical lines. Other things than Latin and Greek were of little account. German, French, English, had their odd hours here and there, but there always was a sort of feeling among us that they were but of little consequence, and as to obtaining a real grasp of any of the languages, that was a thing impossible. Many a boy who could not write a grammatical letter in his own tongue, and without a proportion of misspelt words, was being required to write Latin Hexameters and Pentameters, and to master Greek plays, The idea then was that if a boy was to be fitted for life, he must be well steeped in the dead languages. But splendid men came out of the "rubbishing tail,' and many who were at the head, or near it, never made any mark in life at all.

I do not say this to encourage idleness, but only to encourage parents and teachers to realise that it is not to be expected that all boys will be students—earnest students—of what is prescribed to them as "lessons," and not to cast them off in despair, telling them that they will never do any good in this world. On the other hand, by all means, if a boy develops a taste for classics, encourage him to advance in classical knowledge; but act with judgment in not forcing such study to a point that throws a lad back in the preparation for the business of life who cannot ever take a high professional position in classics. The child was the father of the man in such a case as Lord Cockburn's, although he once sat booby.

Speaking of schoolboys, in regard specially to school itself, one thing I can say with certainty that I am speaking truth. Although no doubt we acquired some knowledge, we often learned also that while we were expected to exercise self-control and not to d splay temper, we sometimes got little help towards such a condition of virtue from teachers. In some cases I can remember displays of what can only be described as being of most example to young boys, o see a learned pedagogue, whom we were called on to look up to and to respect, stamping on the floor, tearing his hair, while he shouted: "Oh, these boys, these boys, these wretched boys," could scarcely tend to aid his pupils in acquiring self-control and patience. To see a book flung from one side of the room to the other so violently that it flew out of the binding, formed a not very desirable lesson for youth. I purposely avoid to mention at what school or time these things took place, as I do not desire to identify them with individuals. "Nil nisi bonum is the true maxim for report on an individual who has passed away. I would fain impress on those who teach, that know) edge s not the sole end of school life, and that moral influence is of the essence of good training, such influence being unattainable if the teacher cannot command himself, and that he commits a moral wrong when he allows his learnedness to make him forget himself, because the pupils' ignorance offends against his superior knowledge.

I shall allow myself to say that it did not appear to me in my youth, and does not appear to me now, that it is sufficiently realised that the possession of great learning is not necessarily accompanied by a capacity to teach, especially in the case of the teaching of the young. It is often rather a disqualification. For the very learned person is too often tempted to treat the pupil as if his little half-pint bottle could be made to take in what his own magnum measure can contain easily, and is impatient at mistakes, quite pardonable in the pupil, but which grate on his finely polished classical surface. It would be well if Lord Cockburn's terse remark were considered when he says, "No mistake is more usual than that of supposing that the power of acquiring, and that of communicating knowledge, is the same."

Too often the very learned person is the most unfit to be a teacher of the young, and too often the less learned, but capable of imparting what he has, will benefit the child and fit him to go on, when the very erudite individual would leave most of his pupils hopelessly behind. The higher class training is best prepared for by a teacher who will not hurry the pupil on to what he is not fit to cope with, or even to appreciate.

Unlike the Circus Place School, we had "the Yards" to play in at the Academy, an expanse of loose gravel, the marks of falls on which I still bear upon my knees. But no provision was made for games of any kind. We played Prisoners Bars, and a game on the same principle as hockey, which was called "hails," driving a small ball with a "claken," a short round-ended bat, which I despair of being able to describe clearly. The game was a good one, and was an Academy game, known nowhere else. I understand that in the upper school it has not survived the day of cricket and football fields, and I am sorry,, Football was also played, the inside of the ball being a common bladder, which soon pushed its way through the holes quickly made in the cover by the stones over which we played, not without spreading a scent. It was not a game of much elaboration, but it was vigorously engaged in and enjoyed. "Fives' we played with our "clakens" against the walls, and when summer came round, cricket was played with balls covered wi'th thick coarse leather to withstand the stones. As a substitute for stumps we chalked the size of a proper wicket upon the wall, and the chalk acted as umpire. The batsman was out when there was a chalk mark on the ball.

Such were our sports. How different from today, when the Academy boys disport themselves in costume two great fields, each with its pavilion, with lavatory and even baths. Professional cricketers keep the grounds, and coach the players. Football matches and cricket matches are played every week during their respective seasons, and annual games on a large scale—with challenge cups and prize cups—intervene between the winter and the summer seasons. What a contrast to our sports in the Forties! A day's cricket was only to be got in a corner of the then Grange field at Grove Street beside the Caledonian Railway, the professional coming round and extracting two pence from each of us for the privilege. I daresay we in our way enjoyed ourselves. The advantages we had were few, but we were not discontented, as we knew of nothing better. The boy of to-day has much cause to be grateful for all that is done for him.

There is another department in which much has been done to improve matters, and it is one in which there, was great call for change, not for pleasure or for luxury, but for proper comfort, and still more for health. In my Academy days the arrangements were, from a hygienic point of view, so bad as to be unspeakable. Some of them I refrain from describing. But one will give an idea of how little health questions were considered in connection with schools. In a place where about four hundred boys were confined for six hours, and where thirst was promoted by hails and fives and football, and in the summer months by cricket, the only means of obtaining a drink of water were discreditable. Within the window of the janitor's lodge a common tin pail was placed on a stool, and two tin mugs were hung in the water by hooked ears attached to them. Each boy after he drank returned the mug into the remaining water, and when the pail was nearly empty, the janitor's wife poured more water on the top of what was left. I doubt whether that pail was ever cleaned during the whole of a term. Thus the tin mugs, to which two to three hundred had applied their lips, were each time washed by being re-plunged into the water, and that water left in the pail to be drunk by the next comers. If such an arrangement were made at an ordinary Board School to-day, Indignant Parent" and "Distressed Mother" would send letters to the newspapers, and the School Board would be denounced in no measured terms in leaderettes. But in the Forties such an insanitary arrangement created no remark. The day of the microbe was not yet, and we were expected to drink the washings of hundreds of lips, although catarrh and consumption bacillicae. &c., might be floating in the polluted contents of our refreshment (!) pail. It could not be called cleanly, and it certainly was not sanitary.


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