The Author keepeth a country School: The Anticipations, Pleasures and Profits of a Pedagogue.
BY our minister's recommend|ation, I was engaged to keep a school, in a neighbouring town, so soon as our fall's work was over.
How my heart dilated with the pros|pect, in the tedious interval, previous to my entering upon my school. How oft|en have I stood suspended over my dung fork, and anticipated my scholars, seated Page 68 in awful silence around me, my arm chair and birchen sceptre of authority. There was an echo in my father's sheep pasture. More than once have I repaired there a|lone, and exclaimed with a loud voice, is MASTER Updike Underhill at home? I would speak with MASTER Under|hill, for the pleasure of hearing how my title sounded. Dost thou smile, indig|nant reader, pause and recollect if these sensations have not been familiar to thee, at sometime in thy life. If thou answer|est disdainfully—no—then I aver thou hast never been a corporal in the militia, or a sophimore at college.
At times, I however entertained less pleasing, but more rational contemplations on my prospects. As I had been once unmercifully whipt, for detecting my mas|ter in a false concord, I resolved to be mild in my government, to avoid all manual cor|rection, and doubted not by these means to secure the love and respect of my pupils.
Page 69 In the interim of school hours, and in those peaceful intervals, when my pupils were engaged in study, I hoped to indulge myself with my favourite Greek. I ex|pected to be overwhelmed with the grati|tude of their parents, for pouring the fresh instruction over the minds of their children, and teaching their young ideas how to shoot. I anticipated indepen|dence from my salary, which was to be e|qual to four dollars, hard money, per month, and my boarding; and expected to find amusement and pleasure among the circles of the young, and to derive infor|mation and delight from the classic con|verse of the minister.
In due time my ambition was gratified, and I placed at the head of a school, con|sisting of about sixty scholars. Excepting three or four overgrown boys of eighteen, the 'generality of them were under the age of seven years. Perhaps a more rag|ged, ill bred, ignorant set, never were col|lected, Page 70 for the punishment of a poor peda|gogue. To study in school was impossi|ble. Instead of the silence I anticipated, there was an incessant clamour. Pre|dominant among the jarring sounds were, Sir, may I read? May I spell? Master, may I go out? Will master mend my pen? What with the pouting of the small children, sent to school, not to learn, but to keep them out of "harm's way," and the gruff surly complaints of the larger ones, I was nearly distracted. Homer's poluphlosboio thalasses, roaring sea, was a whisper to it. My resolution, to avoid beating of them, made me invent small punishments, which often have a salutary impression, on delicate minds; but they were insensible to shame. The putting of a paper fool's cap on one, and ordering an|other under my great chair, only excited mirth in the school; which the very de|linquents themselves often increased, by loud peals of laughter. Going, one fros|ty Page 71 morning, into my school, I found one of the larger boys sitting by the fire in my arm chair. I gently requested him to re|move. He replied that he would, when he had warmed himself; "father finds wood, and not you." To have my throne usurped, in the face of the whole school, shook my government to the centre. I immediately snatched my two foot rule, and laid it pretty smartly across his back. He quitted the chair, muttering that he would tell father. I found his threats of more consequence than I apprehended. The same afternoon, a tall, raw boned man called me to the door; immediately col|lering me with one hand, and holding a cart whip over my head with the other; with fury in his face, he vowed he would whip the skin from my bones, if ever I struck Jotham again▪ ay, he would do it that very moment, if he was not afraid I would take the law of him. This was the only instance of the overwhelming grati|tude Page 72 of parents I received. The next day, it was reported all over town, what a cruel man the master was. "Poor Jotham came into school, half frozen and near fainting; master had been sitting a whole hour by the warm fire; he only begged him to let him warm himself a little, when the master rose in a rage, and cut open his head with the tongs, and his life was despaired of."
Fatigued with the vexations of my school, I one evening repaired to the tav|ern, and mixed with some of the young men of the town. Their conversation I could not relish; mine they could not comprehend. The subject of race horses being introduced, I ventured to descant upon Xanthus, the immortal courser of Achilles. They had never heard of 'squire Achilles, or his horse; but they offered to bet two to one, that Bajazet, the Old Roan, or the deacon's mare, Pumpkin and Milk, would beat him, and challenged me to appoint time and place.
Page 73 Nor was I more acceptable among the young women. Being invited to spend an evening, after a quilting, I thought this a happy opportunity to introduce Andromache, the wife of the great Hec|tor, at her loom; and Penelope, the faith|ful wife of Ulysses, weaving her seven years web. This was received with a stupid stare, until I mentioned the long time the queen of Ulysses was weaving; when a smart young woman observed, that she supposed Miss Penelope's yarn was rotted in whitening, that made her so long: and then told a tedious story of a piece of cotton and linen she had herself woven, under the same circumstances. She had no sooner finished, than, to enforce my observations, I recited above forty lines of Greek, from the Odessey, and then began a dissertation on the caesu|ra. In the midst of my harrangue, a florid faced young man, at the further end of the room, with two large promi|nent Page 74 foreteeth, remarkably white, began to sing,
I was about retiring, fatigued and dis|gusted, when it was hinted to me, that I might wait on Miss Mima home; but as I could recollect no word in the Greek, which would construe into bundling, or any of Homer's heroes, who got the bag, I de|clined. In the Latin, it is true, that AEne|as and Dido, in the cave, seem something like a precedent. It was reported all over the town, the next day, that master was a papish, as he had talked French two hours.
Disappointed of recreation, among the young, my next object was the minister. Here I expected pleasure and profit. He had spent many years in preaching, for the edification of private families, and was settled in the town, in a fit of enthu|siasm; Page 75 when the people drove away a clergyman, respectable for his years and learning. This he was pleased to call an awakening. He lectured me, at the first onset, for not attending the conference and night meetings; talked much of gifts, and decried human learning, as carnal and devilish, and well he might, he certainly was under no obligations to it; for a new singing master coming into town, the young people, by their master's advice, were for introducing Dr. Watts's version of the Psalms. Although I argued with the minister an hour, he remains firmly convinced, to this day, that the version of Sternhold and Hopkins is the same in language, letter, and metre, with those Psalms King David chaunted, in the city of Jerusalem.
As for the independence I had found|ed, on my wages, it vanished, like the rest of my scholastic prospects. I had con|tracted some debts. My request for pres|ent Page 76 payment, was received with as|tonishment. I found, I was not to expect it, until the next autumn, and then not in cash, but produce; to be|come my own collector, and pick up my dues, half a peck of corn or rye in a place.
I was almost distracted, and yearned for the expiration of my contract, when an unexpected period was put to my dis|tress. News was brought, that, by the carelessness of the boys, the school house was burnt down. The common cry now was, that I ought, in justice, to pay for it; as to my want of proper government the carelessness of the boys ought to be im|puted. The beating of Jotham was for|gotten, and a thousand stories of my want of proper spirit circulated. These reports, and even the loss of a valuable Gradus ad Parnossum, did not damp my joy. I am sometimes led to believe, that my e|mancipation from real slavery in Algiers, Page 77 did not afford me sincerer joy, than I ex|perienced at that moment.
I returned to my father, who received me with kindness. My mother heard the story of my discomfitures with trans|port; as, she said, she had no doubt that her dream, about my falling into the hands of savages, was now out.