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And oft she strok'd my head, with fond delight
And, as she gave my diligence its praise,
REV GEORGE CRABBE, the poet of homely life, in his description of the Borough, in speaking of the "Poor and their Dwellings," pays a passing tribute of respect and gratitude to his first teacher:
At her old house, her dress, her air the same,
"Learning, my child," said she, "shall fame command;
For houses perish, lands are gone and spent ;
In learning then excel, for that's most excellent."
"And what her learning ?"—"Tis with awe to look
If aught of mine have gained the public ear;
I labored on to reach the final zad?
Shall I not grateful still the dame survey,
Nor I alone, who hold a trifler's pen,
But half our bench of wealthy, weighty men,
And feel the pleasing debt, and pay the just applause.
To her own house is borne the week's supply;
There she in credit lives, there hopes in peace to die.
Again, in his Parish Register he gives us a pleasing picture of the Good Schoolmistress, out of school hours:
-With due respect and joy,
What time the striplings wearied down with play,
Part at the closing of the summers' day,
And each by different path returned the well-known way.
Then I behold her at the cottage door,
(2.) "And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree."
THE BIRCH has attained a place in English life and literature hardly surpassed by any other tree. It figures in name and in fact-in prose and verse-in matters sacred and profane. Our readers, many of whom, must have a traditional reverence for this emblem of magisterial authority in the school-room, may be pleased with a few of the many references to its manifold uses and virtues as described by the classic authors of our language, as well as with specimens of the wit and poetry which it has inspired.
It had place in the popular festivities of May-day, and of Mid-Summer's Eve, and Christmas. Owen, in his Welsh Dictionary defines Bedwen, a birch tree, by "a May-pole, because it is always made of birch." Stowe, in his 'Survey of London," tells us "that on the vigil of St. John Baptist, every man's door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, &c., garnished with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass with oil burning in them all night." Coles, in his "Adam in Eden," says—“I remember once as I rid through little Brickhill in Buckinghamshire, every sign-post in the towne almost, was bedecked with green birch," on Mid-Summer Eve. Coles quaintly observes among the civil uses of the birch tree, "the punishment of children, both at home and at school; for it hath an admirable influence on them when they are out of order, and therefore some call it make peace." In some sections, on Christmas Eve, a nicely bound bundle of birchen twigs with one end immersed in cake or frosted sugar, was placed in the stockings of naughty boys.
In "Whimsies," or a New Cast of Characters, (1631,) mention is made of the birchpole, as having been set up before ale-houses for a sign,—as a bush of some kind was formerly hung over the door of wine-shops,-whence came the proverb, "good wine needs no bush."
Pope introduces one of his heroes with
"His beaver'd brow a birchen garland bears."
Roger Ascham, in his "Toxophilus: or Schole of Shootinge," enumerates it among "the kinde of wood, whereof the shaft is made"-" being both strong enough to stand in a bowe, and light enough to fly far." Of its use in archery, Spencer, in the "Faerie Queene," speaks of "the birch for shafts" in the equipment of one of his characters.
Shakspeare has not forgot its disciplinary use, (in Measure for Measure, Act I., Sen. 2d.)
"Now as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
For terror, not for use in time the rod
The scholastic uses of the birch have been celebrated not only in occasional stanzas, but constitute the inspiration and burden of poems devoted exclusively to its praise.
Rev. Henry Layng, Fellow of New College, Oxford, published in 1754, Oxford, a poem entitled "The Rod, a poem in three cantos, 4to, 46 pages." It has an advertisement of three pages, deprecating the imputation of any personal allusions or designs to encourage school rebellions. It has also a frontispiece, representing two youths, one standing, the other sitting on a form, and before them the figure of an ass, erect on his hind legs, clothed in a pallium (the dress of a Doctor at Oxford.) A birch, doctorial hat, and books, lettered Priscian and Lycophron, form the base; and on the ribbon above is the legend, "An ass in the Greek pallium teaching."
The following is a specimen of the spirit and humor of the poem, being a description of the birch tree.
"A tree there is, such was Apollo's will,
These characters observ'd thy guide shall be,
So when the priestess at the Delphic shrine,
We find in the London Notes and Queries-from which the above notice and extrac is taken, the following lines.
THE BIRCH A POEM.
Written by a Youth of thirteen.
Though the Oak be the prince and the pride of the grove,
The Birch, they affirm, is the true tree of knowledge,
All cases, all genders, all forms of declension.
Nine branches, when cropp'd by the hands of the Nine,
And duly arranged in a parallel line,
Tied up in nine folds of a mystical string
And soak'd for nine days in cold Helicon spring,
Form a sceptre composed for a pedagogue's hand,
From flints could draw tears, and give life to a clod.
Should Genius a captive in sloth be confined,
And if Morpheus our temple in Lethe should steep,
Here dwells strong conviction-of Logic the glory,
By sympathy thus, and consent of the parts,
The Birch, a priori, applied to the palm,
This bundle of rods may suggest one reflection,
Then, if such are its virtues, we'll bow to the tree,
This poem was written by Rev. Thomas Wilson, B. D., Head-master of Clitheroe Grammar School, Lancashire, in 1784, and first published in Adam's Weekly Courant, July 25, 1786. See Notes and Queries, Vol. x. p. 432.
Hoop, in his whimsical and comic stanzas indulges in frequent allusions to the school where he "was birched," and contrives to extract some sweet out of the bitter discipline of his school days:
"Ay, though the very birch's smart
Should mark those hours again;
(3.) "Their books of stature small they take in hand,
To save from fingers wet the letters fair."
A HORNBOOK was the earliest form of the Primer-or first book to teach children to read-being a card or table, set in a frame, on which the letters were inscribed, and covered with a thin plate of horn to prevent the paper being soiled, and thumbed to pieces by rough and frequent use.
A writer in “Notes and Queries," Vol. III. p. 151, describes a Hornbook in the British Museum, as follows: "It contains on one side the Old English Alphabet'-the capitals in two lines, the small letters in one. The fourth line contains the vowels twice repeated, (perhaps to doubly impress upon the pupil the necessity of learning them.) Next follow in two columns, our ancient companions, ab, eb, ib,' &c., and 'ba, be, bi,' &c. After the formula of exorcism comes the 'Lord's Prayer,' (which is given somewhat differently to our present version,) winding up with 'i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi. vii viii ix. x.' On the other side is the following whimsical piece of composition:
"What more could be wished for, even by a literary gourmand under the Tudors, than to be able to Read and Spell; To repeat that holy charm before which fled all unholy Ghosts, Goblins, or even the old Gentleman himself to the very bottom of the Red Sea, and to say that immortal prayer, which secures heaven to all who exanimo use it, and those mathematical powers, by knowing units, from which spring countless myriads."'
Shakspeare, in "Love's Labor's Lost," introduces the schoolmaster, (Holofernes,) as being "lettered" because "he teaches boys the hornbook."
It appears from a stanza of Prior, that children were sometimes served with a hornbook, far more palatable and easily digested than that described by Shenstone.
To master John the English maid
And, that the child may learn the better,
Locke was one of the earliest English writers on Education to recommend the abandonment of hornbooks, or any arrangement of the letters in horizontal or perpendicular columns, as in the old fashioned Primers, to be learned by the direst repetitions at school, for some game, in which the letters should be pasted on the sides of the dice, or on blocks, and that the shape and name of each should be acquired by familiarity at hoine.
(4.) "To loose the brogues," &c.
The word brogue is used in Scotland to mean a coarse kind of shoe, stitched together by thongs of leather. Shenstone adopts some provincial use of the word for breeches. But be the origin of the word what it may, the schoolmistress was not the first or last to act on the maxim
"Spare the rod and spoil the child."
Samuel Butler who is the author of this line makes the hero of his satirica. poem say
'Whipping, that's virtue's governess,
That mends the gross mistakes of nature,
Kyron, in a satirical stanza urges the unsparing use of the rod.
"Oh ye! who teach the ingenious youth of nations,
It mends their morals, never mind the pain."
No. 9. [VOL. III, No. 2]―30.