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The School

But to come down from great men and higher matters to my
little children and poor school-house again; I will, God
willing, go forward orderly, as I proposed, to instruct
children and young men both for learning and manners.


Having given the reader a slight sketch of the village schoolmaster, he
may be curious to learn something concerning his school. As the squire
takes much interest in the education of the neighbouring children, he
put into the hands of the teacher, on first installing him in office, a
copy of Roger Ascham's Schoolmaster, and advised him, moreover, to con
over that portion of old Peachum which treats of the duty of masters,
and which condemns the favourite method of making boys wise by

He exhorted Slingsby not to break down or depress the free spirit of the
boys, by harshness and slavish fear, but to lead them freely and
joyously on in the path of knowledge, making it pleasant and desirable
in their eyes. He wished to see the youth trained up in the manners and
habitudes of the peasantry of the good old times, and thus to lay the
foundation for the accomplishment of his favourite object, the revival
of old English customs and character. He recommended that all the
ancient holidays should be observed, and that the sports of the boys, in
their hours of play, should be regulated according to the standard
authorities laid down by Strutt; a copy of whose invaluable work,
decorated with plates, was deposited in the school-house. Above all, he
exhorted the pedagogue to abstain from the use of birch, an instrument
of instruction which the good squire regards with abhorrence, as fit
only for the coercion of brute natures, that cannot be reasoned with.

Mr. Slingsby has followed the squire's instructions to the best of his
disposition and abilities. He never flogs the boys, because he is too
easy, good-humoured a creature to inflict pain on a worm. He is
bountiful in holidays, because he loves holidays himself, and has a
sympathy with the urchins' impatience of confinement, from having divers
times experienced its irksomeness during the time that he was seeing the
world. As to sports and pastimes, the boys are faithfully exercised in
all that are on record,--quoits, races, prison-bars, tipcat, trap-ball,
bandy-ball, wrestling, leaping, and what not. The only misfortune is,
that having banished the birch, honest Slingsby has not studied Roger
Ascham sufficiently to find out a substitute, or rather he has not the
management in his nature to apply one; his school, therefore, though one
of the happiest, is one of the most unruly in the country; and never was
a pedagogue more liked, or less heeded, by his disciples than Slingsby.

He has lately taken a coadjutor worthy of himself, being another stray
sheep that has returned to the village fold. This is no other than the
son of the musical tailor, who had bestowed some cost upon his
education, hoping to see him one day arrive at the dignity of an
exciseman, or at least of a parish clerk. The lad grew up, however, as
idle and musical as his father; and, being captivated by the drum and
fife of a recruiting party, he followed them off to the army. He
returned not long since, out of money, and out at elbows, the prodigal
son of the village. He remained for some time lounging about the place
in half-tattered soldier's dress, with a foraging cap on one side of his
head, jerking stones across the brook, or loitering about the tavern
door, a burthen to his father, and regarded with great coldness by all
warm householders.

Something, however, drew honest Slingsby towards the youth. It might be
the kindness he bore to his father, who is one of the schoolmaster's
greatest cronies; it might be that secret sympathy, which draws men of
vagrant propensities towards each other; for there is something truly
magnetic in the vagabond feeling; or it might be, that he remembered the
time when he himself had come back, like this youngster, a wreck to his
native place. At any rate, whatever the motive, Slingsby drew towards
the youth. They had many conversations in the village tap-room about
foreign parts, and the various scenes and places they had witnessed
during their wayfaring about the world. The more Slingsby talked with
him, the more he found him to his taste, and finding him almost as
learned as himself, he forthwith engaged him as an assistant or usher in
the school.

Under such admirable tuition, the school, as may be supposed, flourishes
apace; and if the scholars do not become versed in all the holiday
accomplishments of the good old times, to the squire's heart's content,
it will not be the fault of their teachers. The prodigal son has become
almost as popular among the boys as the pedagogue himself. His
instructions are not limited to school hours; and having inherited the
musical taste and talents of his father, he has bitten the whole school
with the mania. He is a great hand at beating a drum, which is often
heard rumbling from the rear of the school-house. He is teaching half
the boys of the village, also, to play the fife, and the pandean pipes;
and they weary the whole neighbourhood with their vague piping, as they
sit perched on stiles, or loitering about the barn-doors in the
evenings. Among the other exercises of the school, also, he has
introduced the ancient art of archery, one of the squire's favourite
themes, with such success, that the whipsters roam in truant bands about
the neighbourhood, practising with their bows and arrows upon the birds
of the air, and the beasts of the field; and not unfrequently making a
foray into the squire's domains, to the great indignation of the
gamekeepers. In a word, so completely are the ancient English customs
and habits cultivated at this school, that I should not be surprised if
the squire should live to see one of his poetic visions realised, and a
brood reared up, worthy successors to Robin Hood and his merry gang of

Washington Irving