« AnteriorContinua »
(1.) The Schoolmistress.
Or honest Sarah Lloyd, "the Schoolmistress" of Shenstone, whose faithful portrait ure has given her school and her vocation, with all its interesting details, to undying fame, we have had in this country but few representatives. There are traditions among us, of such "dame schools," and such bent and wrinkled "school-marms," but the female teachers of our primary schools belong to a much younger, and much prettier class, of whom "Mary Smith" in Warren Burton's" District Schools as it was," is a charming specimen. But the universal acceptance by successive generations, of this poem, by which Shenstone passes into the list of the living authors of the language, proves that the sketch was drawn from life, and that the race has not yet died out in England or Scotland. Gilfillan, in his edition of Shenstone, remarks:
"Almost all people have some aged crone who stands to them in the light through which Shenstone has contemplated honest Sarah Lloyd; and as soon as she appears on his page, every one hails her as an old acquaintance, and is ready to prove, by her gown, or her cap, her birch, her herbs, or her devout hatred for the Pope, that she answers to his ancient preceptress-just as every one who has read Goldsmith's Schoolmaster in the "Deserted Village" is ready to cry out "that is my old teacher."
We, at least, never can read Goldsmith's lines without seeing a certain worthy old domine, long since dead, with his two wigs, the dun for ordinary, and the black for extra occasions; the one synonymous with frowns and flagellations, and the other with a certain snug smile which sometimes lay all day on his face and spoke of a projected jaunt, or a quiet evening jug of punch,—with his sage advice, his funny stories, at which we were compelled to laugh, his smuggled translations discovered by us sometimes with infinite glee in his neglected desk, the warm fatherly interest he displayed now and then in his famed scholars, and the severe inimical sarcasm, (a power this in which he peculiarly excelled,) which he drew at other times in a merciless mesh around the victim of his wrath till he writhed again. Nor can we take up Shenstone's poem without reviving the memory of an elderly dame, now many years at rest, with her spectacles on her nose, her cat at her feet, her well-worn torse, (twisted leather,) in her hand, and this universal apology for her continued flagellations upon her lips, the logic of which her pupils were never able exactly to comprehend, "If ye are no in a fault just now, ye're sure to be't!" And we are certain that if all who have had similar experience were piling each a stone on two cairns, (heaps over the dead,) erected to the two ingenious authors who have impressed and represented this common phase of human life. they would soon out tower the pyramids. Shenstone's "Schoolmistress" has not indeed the point and condensation of Goldsmith's "Schoolmaster," but its spirit is the same; and there is besides about it a certain, soft, warm slumberous charm, as if reflected from the good dame's kitchen fire. The very stanza seems murmuring in its sleep."
In justice to the "schoolmistress" of our day-of the many accomplished young women, "in whose own hearts love, hope and patience, have first kept school," now in charge of the "Primary" and "District Schools" of our country, we introduce the following sketch of "My First Teacher" from the "District School as it was," "Mary Smith was my first teacher, and the dearest to my heart I ever had. She was a niece of Mrs. Carter, who lived in the nearest house on the way to school. She had visited her aunt the winter before; and her uncle being chosen committee for the school at the town meeting in the spring, sent immediately to her home in Connecticut, and engaged her to teach the summer school. During the few days she spent at his house, she had shown herself peculiarly qualified to interest, and to gain the love of children. Some of the neighbors, too, who had dropped in while she was there, were
THE DISTRICT SCHOOL AS IT WAS, SCENERY-SHOWING, AND OTHER WRITINGS, by Rev. Warren Burton. This little volume should belong to every teacher, and every popular library, for its faithful portraiture of the common school as it was, in the country districts of New England, and for its many excellent suggestions in the way of improvement.
much pleased with her appearance. She had taught one season in her native state; and that she succeeded well, Mr. Carter could not doubt. He preferred her, therefore, to hundreds near by; and for once the partiality of the relative proved profitable to the district.
Now Mary Smith was to board at her uncle's. This was deemed a fortunate circumstance on my account, as she would take care of me on the way, which was needful to my inexperienced childhood. My mother led me to Mr. Carter's, to commit ine to my guardian and instructor for the summer. I entertained the most extravagant ideas of the dignity of the school-keeping vocation, and it was with trembling reluctance that I drew near the presence of so lovely a creature as they told me Mary Smith was. But she so gently took my quivering little hand, and so tenderly stooped and kissed my cheek, and said such soothing and winning words, that my timidity was gone at once.
She used to lead me to school by the hand, while John and Sarah Carter gamboled on, unless I chose to gambol with them; but the first day, at least, I kept by her side. All her demeanor toward me, and indeed toward us all, was of a piece with her first introduction. She called me to her to read, not with a look and voice as if she were doing a duty she disliked, and was determined I should do mine too, like it or not, as is often the manner of teachers; but with a cheerful smile and a softening eye, as if she were at a pastime, and wished me to partake of it.
My first business was to master the A B C, and no small achievement it was; for many a little learner waddles to school through the summer, and waddles to the same through the winter, before he accomplishes it, if he happens to be taught in the manner of former times. This might have been my lot, had it not been for Mary Smith. Few of the better methods of teaching, which now make the road to knowledge so much more easy and pleasant, had then found their way out of or into, the brain of the pedagogical vocation. Mary went on in the old way indeed; but the whole exercise was done with such sweetness on her part, that the dilatory and usually unpleasant task was to me a pleasure, and consumed not so much precious time as it generally does in the case of heads as stupid as mine. By the close of that summer, the alphabet was securely my own. That hard, and to me unmeaning, string of sights and sounds, were bound forever to my memory by the ties created by gentle tones and looks.
That hardest of all tasks, sitting becomingly still, was rendered easier by her goodness. When I grew restless, and turned from side to side, and changed from posture to posture, in search of relief from my uncomfortableness, she spoke words of sympathy rather than reproof. Thus I was won to be as quiet as I could. When 1 grew drowsy, and needed but a comfortable position to drop into sleep and forgetfulness of the weary hours, she would gently lay me at length on my seat, and leave me just falling to slumber, with her sweet smile the last thing beheld or remembered.
Thus wore away my first summer at the district school. As I look back on it, faintly traced on memory, it seems like a beautiful dream, the images of which are all softness and peace. I recollect that, when the last day came, it was not one of light-hearted joy-it was one of sadness, and it closed in tears. I was now obliged to stay at home in solitude, for the want of playmates, and in weariness of the passing time, for the want of something to do; as there was no particular pleasure in saying A B C all alone, with no Mary Smith's voice and looks for an accompaniment. *
The next summer, Mary Smith was the mistress again. She gave such admirable satisfaction, that there was but one unanimous wish that she should be re-engaged.
Mary was the same sweet angel this season as the last. I did not, of course, need her soothing and smiling assiduity as before; but still she was a mother to me in tenderness. She was forced to caution us younglings pretty often; yet it was done with such sweetness, that a caution from her was as effectual as would be a frown, and indeed a blow, from many others. At least, so it was with me. She used to resort to various severities with the refractory and idle, and in one instance, she used the ferule; but we all knew, and the culprit knew, that it was well deserved.
At the close of the school, there was a deeper sadness in our hearts than on the last summer's closing day. She had told us that she should never be our teacher again,— should probably never meet many of us again in this world. She gave us much farting advice about loving and obeying God, and loving and doing good to everybody. She sned tears as she talked to us, and that made our own flow still more. When we were dismissed, the customary and giddy laugh was not heard. Many were sobbing with grief, and even the least sensitive were softened and subdued to an unusual quietness.
The last time I ever saw Mary was Sunday evening, on my way home from meeting. As we passed Mr. Carter's, she came out to the chaise where I sat between my parents, to bid us good by. Oh, that last kiss, that last smile, and those last tones! Never shall I forget them, so long as I have power to remember or capacity to love. The next morning she left for her native town; and before another summer she was married. As Mr. Carter soon moved from our neighborhood, the dear instructress never visited it again. *
There was one circumstance connected with the history of summer schools of so great importance to little folks, that it must not be omitted. It was this. The mistress felt obliged to give little books to all her pupils on the closing day of her school. Otherwise she would be thought stingy and half the good she had done during the summer would be canceled by the omission of the expected donations. If she had the least generosity, or hoped to be remembered with any respect and affection, she must devote a week's wages, and perhaps more, to the purchase of these little toy-books. My first present, of course, was from Mary Smith. It was not a little book the first summer, but it was something that pleased me more.
The last day of the school had arrived. All, as I have somewhere said before, were sad that it was now to finish. My only solace was that I should now have a little book, for I was not unmoved in the general expectation that prevailed. After the reading and spelling, and all the usual exercises of the school, were over, Mary took from her desk a pile of the glittering little things we were looking for. What beautiful covers, red, yellow, blue, green! Oh! not the first buds of spring, not the first rose of summer, not the rising moon, nor gorgeous rainbow, seemed so charming as that first pile of books now spread out on her lap, as she sat in her chair in front of the school. All eyes were now centered on the outspread treasures. Admiration and expectation were depicted on every face. Pleasure glowed in every heart; for the worst, as well as the best, calculated with certainty on a present. What a beautifier of the countenance agreeable emotions are! The most ugly visaged were beautiful now with the radiance of keen anticipation. The scholars were called out one by one to receive the dazzling gifts beginning at the oldest. I being an abecedarian, must wait till the last; but as I knew that my turn would surely come in due order, I was tolerably patient. But what was my disappointment, my exceeding bitterness of grief, when the last book on Mary's lap was given away, and my name not yet called! Every one present had received, except myself and two others of the A B C rank. 1 felt the tears starting to my eyes; my lips were drawn to their closest pucker to hold in my emotions from audible outcry. I heard my fellow-sufferer at my side draw long and heavy breaths, the usual preliminaries to the bursting out of grief. This feeling, however, was but momentary; for Mary immediately said, "Charles and Henry and Susan, you may now all come to me together;" at the same time her hand was put into her work-bag. We were at her side in an instant, and in that time she held in her hand-what? Not three little picture books, but what was to us a surprising novelty, viz.: three little birds wrought from sugar by the confectioner's art. I had never seen or heard or dreamed of such a thing. What a revulsion of delighted feeling now swelled my little bosom ! "If I should give you books," said Mary, "you could not read them at present. so I have got for you what you will like better perhaps, and there will be time enough for you to have books, when you shall be able to read them. So, take these little birds, and see how long you can keep them." We were perfectly satisfied, and even felt ourselves distinguished above the rest. My bird was more to me than all the songsters in
the air, although it could not fly, or sing, or open its mouth. I kept it for years, until by accident it was crushed to pieces, and was no longer a bird."
It must be confessed that all the "schools of the olden time" in New England were not taught by "Mary Smiths," and some of the worthy "school-ma'ams," continued to "board round" long after they had passed out of "their teens." The following stanzas which were first published in the Maine Farmer, describe a class of schools and teachers, which many graduates of common schools will recognize as their own.
The Schools-the schools of other days!
When, with my dinner in my hat,
I trudged away to school;
Nor dared to stop, as boys do now,-
With locks well combed, and face so clean,
And if a traveler we met,
We threw no sticks and stones
But, with our hats beneath our arms,
For ne'er the school-ma'am failed to ask,
Boys, did you make a bow?”
And all the little girls with us
And hide their ankles 'neath their gowns→
Girls don't have ankles now.
We stole no fruit, nor tangled grass;
We played no noisy games,
And when we spoke to older folks,
And when the hour for school had come
Of bell we had no need
The school-ma'am's rap upon the glass
The school-ma'am-Heaven bless her name
When shall we meet her like?
She always wore a green calash,
She never sported pantelets,
Her dress hung gracefully all round-
With modest mien and loving heart
And, true as needle to the pole,
The days were all alike to her,
And then we had a "spelling match,"
And on that day we saw her smile-
When next "leap-year" would be.
But now indeed her toils are o'er,
Her rules well learned, her words well spelled
She's gone up to the head.
We now return to our English authorities for the character and social standing of the schoolmistress of former days.
HENRY KIRKE WHITE thus commemorates the "village matron," of Nottingham, Mrs. Garrington, who introduced him into the mysteries of alphabetic lore:
In yonder cot, along whose mouldering walls,
Beneath her chin was pinn'd with decent care;
And pendant ruffles of the whitest lawn,
Here first I entered, though with toil and pain,
When I was first to school reluctant borne ;
To my lone corner broken-hearted crept―
And thought of tender home, where anger never kept;
But, soon inured to alphabetic toils,
Alert I met the dame with jocund smiles
First at the form, my task for ever true,
A little favorite rapidly I grew;