English Education - The Dawn
( Originally Published 1921 )
ENGLISH education is very old—older than the State, older than every national institution save the Church. Yet so completely had its antiquity been forgotten that, till a few years ago, it was believed to go back only to the Renaissance. Mr Leach has changed all this: we now know that the supply of grammar schools was greater, in proportion to the population, in the Middle Ages than at any subsequent period up to the Education Act of 1902. The past has come to its own again; and there is some danger that we may under-rate the work of more recent times. Institutions are not like plants which grow from a seed into a pre-determined shape : they are transformed into something radically different by a creative period, and such a period was the nineteenth century. The mediaeval State did not spontaneously develop into modern democracy, but was reshaped by the ideas of the French Revolution: mediaeval religion did not evolve into the beliefs held by the majority of Englishmen today, as Newman claimed that it developed into modern Romanism, merely by making explicit what had previously been implicit. Both State and Church have been changed by the influence of new ideas; and these new ideas have been due to original thinkers, to the influence of other nations, and to the effects of changes in one compartment of life upon another. So it has been with education. If we took away either from present-day educational ideals or from their realisation in schools and universities all that is due to influences which have become operative since 1789, how little would be left as an inheritance to the twentieth century from the eighteenth ! A mere enumeration of these modern influences would be a long task. Changes in political and religious thought, changes in social life and aspirations; the French Revolution and the Liberal movement; Evangelicalism, the Oxford movement, and Broad Church views; the discoveries of modern science; the Industrial Revolution, and the revolution in means of communication; the fuller understanding of ancient thought, the growth of national self-consciousness, and the altered outlook on the universe created by modern geology and biology; the increasing knowledge of hygienic and psycho-logical principles; a fuller consciousness both of the value of the individual and of the possibilities of the State:—all these influences have been brought to bear on education either for the first time or with increased force during the last hundred and thirty years.
There is a peculiar difficulty in studying a recent period that these broad influences may elude our grasp. We may lose the wood in the trees. Particular events, acts of parliament, prominent individuals, may attract our attention too much. The very nearness of the period makes the details stand out too closely; we may fail to appreciate the general structure of the building. But it is only by recognising the broad influences that we are able to interpret as well as to know past events, and it is only by interpretation that we can use the past as a guide to the future.
This danger of laying over-much stress on events which can be named and dated is particularly insidious in the present case because it tends to put State action in the forefront of the changes which have taken place in education during the last century. State action is now peculiarly in favour; and large numbers of persons are brought into contact with education as holders of administrative posts or as members of administrative committees. They are therefore inclined to look at education as a machine built by the State and driven by the bodies controlling local government. The history of education, provided it be truly the history of education and not the history of educational legislation, should help to rectify any such one-sided view. It should reveal the vitalising forces which were the true source of educational energy; it should endeavour to establish the extent to which education has been affected by the work of individual men and women ; it should show by what forces legislators and administrators have been driven.
A study of English higher education in the nineteenth century involves then keeping the balance even between three kinds of topic; intellectual and social movements which have affected education, the work of individual endeavour, and the action of the State. Three of the chapters which follow take great movements as their starting-point. Two1 of them are concerned with the intellectual movements which affected the two great divisions of study, the humanities and the natural sciences; one2 deals with movements which are more of a social character. The humanistic movement in education which revived the older universities and schools was a meeting-point of the new political, religious, and aesthetic enthusiasms of the early part of the century; the scientific movement in education which created new subjects of study and new institutions to teach. them was the outcome of the great advances in science itself. The social movements produce their effect later, and we have grouped them round the well-known names of Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Maurice, and Kingsley. In the early part of the period these movements were brought to bear on education almost entirely by the creative genius of individuals; and four chapters are devoted mainly, but not entirely, to their work. In each case one or two individuals have been peculiarly originators, though many persons have taken a share in the building. These chapters3 deal with the revival of the public schools in the thirties and forties, the creation of new types, the work of individual endeavour in boys' schools after the middle of the century, and the reform of girls' and women's education. Finally the part played by the State is examined in two chapters4, of which one deals with the reform of old institutions as a result of the Royal Commissions which sat during the fifties and sixties, and the other with the great extension of educational facilities y more recent legislation: and another chapter1, on popular and technical education, is largely of the same character.
It may be well to indicate at the beginning the part which the reader will probably judge at the end that each of these three factors has played. The State cannot create ideas, and rarely has it been the first agency to realise them in concrete institutions. Its main function has been to multiply copies of the successful experiments which have been made by individuals. Though a State official who was also a creative genius in educational matters is conceivable, no example can be produced from English history during the nineteenth century3. The creative work of devising new types of educational institution, new curricula, and new methods of teaching and government has been mainly the work of individuals, such as Birkbeck the founder of Mechanics' Institutes, Maurice the author of the Working Men's College, Hogg the originator of poly-technics, Thomas Arnold who discovered how the elder boys could transmit the headmaster's influence to the younger, Thring who discovered how the aesthetic and practical subjects could be made a vehicle of education, or Miss Beale the creator of the first public school for girls4. State-created institutions have been either copies or failures5. But the individuals who built up the institutions have been largely inspired by ideas which originated out-side the scholastic circle; hence such men as Ruskin or Huxley claim as large a part in the history of education as the great teachers or founders of schools and colleges.
Probably the nearest approach which the State has made to originality in the sphere of education is to be found in the activities of the various Royal Commissions. Not even the most pronounced individualist would deny the capacity of the State to choose a number of the most thoughtful men in the country, to induce them for a limited time to devote their concentrated attention to a particular topic, and to give them facilities for collecting all available evidence and for coming into contact with all opinions worth having. It is probable too that these bodies of enquirers reached conclusions in their corporate capacity which no single member would have attained for himself. But it must be remembered that such conclusions only crystallised the thought of half-a-century on the problems concerned; and that their effect was produced quite as much by their influence on public opinion and through the subsequent action of individuals as through the legislative and administrative changes to which they gave rise.
A comprehensive glance at the state of British universities and secondary schools between 1789 and 1815 reveals one outstanding feature. They do not reflect any ideals of their own age. No new driving power had come to them for a century and a half. To understand them we have to go back to the Renaissance. As early as the first half of the seventeenth century there had come a loss of faith in the educational ideals of classical humanism; by the second half of that century intellectual and moral enthusiasm was exhausted; and low-water mark was reached in the middle of the eighteenth century. After that point moral energy was gathering power, but it was still unable to cope with the tremendous force of inertia. Existing higher education, then, at the beginning of the nineteenth century represented tradition. It was there because it had been there for two centuries and no one had arisen to alter it.
We will consider the state of the universities first. In the days of Queen Elizabeth they seemed about to enter on a period of new vigour. These hopes were not destined to be fulfilled. Many explanations have been given. Con-troversialists1 in the first half of the nineteenth century found the reason in the changes which took place in their constitution, by which the powers hitherto exercised by the whole body of resident masters of arts were transferred to a council of heads of colleges. Others, anxious to point a moral to modern times, have explained it as due to State intervention. The dissipation of energy in religious controversies has been put forward with a greater show of probability as the reason. None of these explanations appears to go to the root of the matter. A system of studies which possessed an inherent vitality should have been able to offer a more vigorous resistance to external circumstances. A fervid belief in the worth of classical pursuits would not have allowed itself to be overwhelmed by religious quarrels. We are more likely therefore to find the true explanation of the stagnation which crept over the English universities in some lack of stimulating power in the new curriculum. Two features give us the clue. The first is the exclusiveness of humanism. Its literary ideal appealed only to the few. In spite of its claims to be a guide of life, it never touched the hearts of Englishmen. It did not, like the older Scholasticism, offer a rational explanation of the universe which would support their religion. Content was entirely subordinate to form. There was no study of ancient history. Classical scholarship advanced, but it was left to the Germans of the late eighteenth century to discover the true significance. of Greek literature. The second feature is the character of post-Renaissance philosophy. The universities, when they abandoned Scholasticism, did not, as a thorough-going humanism might have done, abandon philosophy. Nor did they even give up Aristotle: for it was a canon of Renaissance teaching that all knowledge worth acquiring was contained in the ancient writers. They merely substituted the genuine Aristotle for scholastic Aristotelianism. The recognition of a single writer as the infallible standard of philosophic, and for a time even of scientific, truth substituted a more rigid authority for that measure of originality which, within fixed limits, stimulated the student of scholastic philosophy. The Middle Ages trained the undergraduate in original speculation, though they forbade him to use the power which they had given him; the Renaissance Aristotle dulled his mind by bidding him blindly accept the written text. A revival could only come with a new inspiration.
The loss of intellectual interests made the way easy for a lowering of the moral tone. The "poor scholar" had nothing to attract him to the university. His place was taken by the sons of the aristocracy whose interest in study was small. .In the Middle Ages the nobility had been the exception, middle class students abounded, and the children of the labourer were not unknown. In the course of the eighteenth century, the poor boy came to be regarded as a tolerated addition: he was often a "servitor," and was bitterly conscious of being among his social superiors. The land-owning class were regarded as the natural denizens. They entered the university, not to feed on solid intellectual food, but to enjoy a costly luxury. While they were there, they naturally did what other young men of their class were doing elsewhere. So far from being formed by the ethos of the university, they brought it its ethos. It was merely the atmosphere of the London coffee-house transferred to Oxford or Cambridge. Extravagance, debt, drunkenness, gambling, and an absurd attention to dress became the special forms of irregularity favoured by the gentlemen commoners, whose ranks were swollen by the nouveaux riches at the end of the century. Even fellows of colleges spent much of their time in the tavern. Work ceased at dinner time, which meant eleven o'clock at the beginning of the century, and two or three hours later at the end. By the middle of the century the interest in his pupils which the better type of tutor still displayed in the days of Whitefield and Johnson had vanished.
The intellectual decadence was greater at Oxford than at Cambridge. Vicesimus Knox's account of the tests for the Oxford degree is well-known'. In form they were a combination of the mediaeval disputation and an oral examination. There were three stages : the first constituted the candidates " sophs," the second conferred the bachelor's degree, and the third the master's. For the sophomore test two candidates were paired off as "opponent" and " respondent " in a disputation. The arguments, Knox tells us, "consisted of foolish syllogisms on foolish subjects" of which the candidate knew nothing, "handed down from generation to generation on long slips of paper." Armed with these the two disputants betook themselves to a "large dusty room" where "not once in a hundred times does any officer enter; and, if he does, he hears one syllogism or two and then makes a bow and departs." For the rest of the time the candidates read a novel or carved their names on the desks. Passing was a matter of course. The bachelor's degree involved a viva voce examination; but this was conducted by three masters of arts of the candidate's own choice, and it was "considered good management to get acquainted with two or three jolly young masters of arts and to supply them with port previous to the examination." It was indeed usual to obtain little cram-books containing "forty or fifty" traditional questions on each subject and to spend three or four days in memorising them, and there was a perfunctory construe of a passage from a classical author; but the turning of familiar English phrases into Latin which ended the proceedings seems merely to have fulfilled the rôle of the satyric play which followed an Athenian trilogy. "I have known," says Knox, "the questions to consist of an enquiry into the pedigree of a race-horse." The test for the master's degree involved both a disputation and an examination, which were no better than those at the earlier stages, as well as a "declamation." Originally the M.A. degree had been at the same time a license and an obligation to teach within the university, and the declamation was the proof of the candidate's ability to lecture. In Knox's day, how-ever, "it was always called a wall lecture, because the lecturer had no other audience than the walls," though he "gets a sheet or two of Latin from some old book" to read should the proctor come in. Knox is clearly no favourable critic, but he is supported by the evidence of men of such different standpoints as Gibbon, Adam Smith, Malmesbury, and Eldon, while no effective defence has ever been put forward. If we wish to picture Oxford in the year when George III ascended the throne, we must imagine a university in which professors had ceased to lecture, where tutors regarded an enquiring student as a nuisance, and where work was the last thing expected.
Cambridge never sank quite so low as Oxford, and the revival came earlier. The causes of decay were the same; but Cambridge received a stimulus from the genius of Newton which Oxford lacked. It may be observed in passing that the call of Bacon, the herald of experimental science, did not seriously affect either university; for the non-mathematical sciences had no point of contact with the old curriculum, nor did they satisfy the demand for logical certainty, to which four centuries of training in dialectic had habituated the academic mind. But mathematics was part of the old quadrivium, and its development and application supplied just that stimulus which was. suited to the time. It proceeded on strict syllogistic lines, yet it was progressive and yielded new truths; further, it gave a comprehensive explanation of the material order of the universe through astronomy, which men had in different directions been long seeking. Unfortunately Newton lived in a slack age and three-quarters of a century wal needed to reveal- the full force of the new driving power. But by the second half of the eighteenth century mathematics was established as the dominant study in Cambridge. This necessitated the substitution of a new type of exercise for the old disputation and between 1766 and 1833 the modern type of written examination was gradually evolved. In 1800 Oxford adopted the same kind of test, and the revival of the university was believed to date from that event. Later, the written examination, which originated simply as the easiest means of testing the power of solving mathematical problems, was every-where adopted as an educational panacea.
Since the system was long regarded, not merely as a sign of returning life, but as its cause, it is desirable to trace its growth a little more fully. Dr Jebb of Trinity describes it as it existed in 17721. Disputation and examination were still combined, and the latter was mainly oral. The disputations were begun in the second term of the candidate's last year, when the "moderators," as the examiners were called, conducted them on five afternoons a week. The candidates received a fortnight's notice. One acted as "respondent" and three as "opponents." The respondent submitted in advance three propositions which he was prepared to maintain, and read a short Latin thesis on one of them. He then disputed with his three opponents in turn, the discussion commencing in strict syllogistic form, but "sliding into free and unconfined debate" as it proceeded. Marks were recorded, on the strength of which the candidates were divided into groups for the examination. This was conducted in English. All candidates were questioned orally on the first six books of Euclid, elementary algebra, trigonometry, mechanics, hydrostatics, astronomy, and optics; and "a very superficial knowledge in morality and metaphysics " was expected, involving a few questions on Locke, Butler, or Clarke. The colleges took a share in the examination, each appointing one of its tutors as " father." The university moderators and the college fathers met at breakfast and dinner to discuss the merits of the candidates, the best of whom were eventually divided into three classes. The best twenty-eight usually formed the first two classes, Wranglers and Senior Optimes, and the next twelve the Junior Optimes. The system was obviously not the farce which Knox describes at Oxford; but it must be borne in mind how small a part of the university was included in the list of forty candidates who were awarded honours and how small was the ground covered in two years almost exclusively devoted to mathematical study. Moreover Jebb goes on to tell us that "so alarming is the apprehension" of this half-year "that the student frequently seeks to avoid the difficulty or disgrace by commencing fellow-commoner"; for in those days social position and higher fees were officially recognised as en-titling to easier examinations !
Changes were inevitable. Owing to the difficulty of combining the marks for the disputations with those for the examination, it was soon found that the candidate's place in the class-list was in fact determined almost solely by the examination; and the importance of problems in mathematical work emphasised the written part of the examination. It was not, however, till 1838 that the division of candidates into groups on the strength of the disputations and the setting of different questions to these groups were finally abandoned; and the disputations and the viva voce examination maintained a moribund existence for a little longer.
The revival at Oxford began during the last thirty years of the eighteenth century. An energetic type of college tutor once more arose1, and Gibbon2 assures us that learning had once more "become a fashion." To encourage work among the undergraduates, three heads of colleges, Cyril Jackson, dean of Christ Church (1783-1809), John Parsons, master of Balliol (1798-1813), and John Eveleigh, provost of Oriel (1781-1814), carried the "new examination statute," which introduced a genuine examination for all candidates and the award of honours to the most successful, as at Cambridge. Conservative opposition was allayed by making the change at first purely optional; but the success of the new system was in a few years so obvious that it was made compulsory without a struggle, and there was a tremendous rush of candidates to take their degrees before the old system finally disappeared. At Oxford classics naturally held the premier place in the examination, with mathematics as second. The viva voce examination, being more suited to classics than to mathematics, was for a long time of great importance and it has never entirely vanished. A few more years saw the introduction of three classes, as at Cambridge, the separation of classical and mathematical honours, and the institution of separate examinations for pass candidates. Up to our own day the view has generally prevailed that the revival of serious study is to be mainly attributed to the new statute: yet, great though its influence undoubtedly was, it would have been powerless but for the more serious attitude to life which, under the influence of the religious revival and the struggle with Napoleon, was spreading among the whole of English society. It is doubtful too whether the revival of classical studies would have been permanent had they not been found to have, in their political and philosophical bearings, a close relation to modern life which has quite transformed the studies of the school of Litterae humaniores. The rise of this newer humanism will form the topic of the next chapter.
The revival of intellectual life in the universities was followed by a revival in some of the larger public schools which gradually spread. The history of these few schools is therefore for the moment the main thread of the history of secondary education.
The eighteenth century is an obscure period in the history of English schools; but, by comparing their condition at its close with their condition in the middle of the seventeenth century, we can see that many changes had taken place. Nevertheless, as in the case of the universities, the basis of education in the schools was still the curriculum of the Renaissance.
Half of the mediaeval grammar schools perished in the troublous times of the Reformation, but through the generosity of founders the loss was made good in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. With a few exceptions, such as Shrewsbury, these schools, though numerous, were quite small, and the staff regularly consisted of two only, the schoolmaster who took the upper half of the school, and the usher who took the lower. All were day schools except Eton and Winchester: the boys from the country districts lodged in the town. The distinction between the great public schools and the smaller grammar schools had not yet arisen.
Their decline probably set in with the Restoration. Locke takes it for granted that to send a boy to school is "to sacrifice his innocency to the attaining of confidence and some little drill of bustling for himself among others, by his conversation with ill-bred and vicious boys," and declares it to be wholly impossible for a master to supervise "three or four score boys lodged up and down1." As time went on, matters grew worse. The bulk of the grammar schools decayed; some disappeared altogether. Governing bodies became lethargic; in some cases they even misappropriated the funds which they were appointed to guard; parents no longer showed the old zeal for education; the universities were no goal to which boys eagerly pressed, nor did they send forth a supply of capable teachers.
By the time when we next have much information on English secondary schools, at the close of the eighteenth century, the distinction between the "public schools" and the rest of the grammar schools is well established. The public schools were merely those of the grammar schools which had increased in numbers and prestige while the rest declined. Two changes had occurred which served to differentiate them; they had increased the numbers of their staff, and they had become boarding-schools. The first of these changes cannot be traced clearly, as it is not usually recorded in the minutes of governing bodies. It seems to have been regarded as a private arrangement of the head-master for the performance of the work for which he alone was responsible to the governors; hence the existing custom in these schools by which the appointment and dismissal of assistant masters rest with the headmaster alone. The boarding system at first took the form of houses kept by " dominies " and "dames," who were not members of the teaching staff; headmasters began to keep houses before their assistants were encouraged to do so. The new system may well have arisen from a desire to escape from the laxity described by Locke; but it would be facilitated by the coming of the stage coach and improvements in the roads. If it was intended to improve the tone of schools, it was a terrible failure. It exaggerated the evils, though it concealed them. Unruly conduct could no longer occur in the streets where it could be seen; but the herding together of forty or fifty boys with a low moral tone in barracks without proper supervision made it impossible for any to escape the bad influence. The resulting evils will be considered when we come to the attempts of the great re-forming headmasters to combat them.
The Public Schools Commission in the middle of the nineteenth century recognised nine public schools—Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Shrewsbury, Harrow, Charter-house, Rugby, St Paul's, and Merchant Taylors'. The last two were still day-schools, and the number is in consequence usually taken as seven. Of the nine, four were in London and three comparatively near. Before describing their common features it may be well to explain briefly how each of them attained its position.
Eton and Winchester, unlike the others, were boarding-schools from their foundation. William of Wykeham, in founding Winchester and New College, Oxford, intended them to be a new departure, a school and a college on a larger scale than any which were then in existence. Henry VI, the royal founder of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, followed William's lines. In both cases, though the free scholars were the true foundation, a limited number of the sons of the aristocracy were from the first to be admitted as paying boarders: for both founders wished to encourage the novel desire for book-learning among the baronial and knightly class. In both cases these boys came to outnumber the foundation scholars, and the later character of the schools was thus established.
Eton, situated close to the royal residence of Windsor, and zealously patronised by monarchs like Elizabeth, gradually rose almost to the position of a national institution. Such it must have been when Gray wrote his Ode, though its Toryism rendered it, like Oxford, suspect to the Hanoverian kings and their Whig ministers. Towards the end of the eighteenth century it was exercising a direct influence over other schools. James (1778–1794) developed Rugby on Etonian lines, and Butler (1798–1836) trans-planted many Etonian institutions from Rugby to Shrews-bury. James's account of Eton, written in 1766, and rendered accessible in Maxwell Lyte's History of Eton College, is almost the only living document which gives us a real insight into the school life of the eighteenth century.
Winchester originally not only took its foundationers and ten commensales (young aristocrats), but also day-boys. Leach believes that the day-boys disappeared with the foundation of a rival school by a seceding usher in 1630. The patronage of Charles II emphasised the aristocratic side; new buildings were erected in 1689; and, after a temporary decline due to its high Toryism, it revived under Burton (1724–1766), under whom its numbers reached 204 and its aristocratic character became more pronounced. Dames' houses never existed at Winchester, and the numbers had to be restricted through lack of room in the school itself. From 1775 to 1793 it passed through troublous times and furnishes several instances of the school rebellions which marked that period. The rule of Goddard (1796–1809) revived it, and his experiments in self-government formed the model on which his more famous pupil Thomas Arnold built his system at Rugby.
Westminster in its original intention approximated more nearly to Eton and Winchester than did any of the others. It was refounded in 1560 for forty foundationers who were boarders and for the day-boys of the city, as well as for a few "pensioners" (commensales). The Latin play which it still preserves was a common feature of Elizabethan schools. Its floruit was in the middle of the seventeenth century under its famous headmaster Busby (1640—1695). Dames' houses after the Eton model appear early in the eighteenth century. But it declined to a hundred pupils at the close of the century and did not revive till the appointment of Liddell in 1848.
Shrewsbury was the great school of Elizabeth's reign and of the early seventeenth century, when it contained no less than four hundred pupils. But from the middle of that century it declined, and was only restored by a change in its constitution which was effected by an act of parliament in 1798. The appointment of Samuel Butler (1798—1836) to the headmastership made it for a time a model which other schools followed in the matter of classical teaching, and old Salopians introduced Butler's methods even into Eton.
Harrow, opened in 1615, was intended by its founder purely as a local grammar school for the "poor boys" of the parish, and entered on its career in humble fashion with only thirty boys. But House (1669—1685), an Etonian, set to work to remodel it on Eton lines; dames' houses appear; the proximity to London placed it in an advantageous position ; and finally it received the patronage of the Whig nobility who distrusted the Toryism of Eton and Winchester. After a short period of eclipse its position was consolidated by Thackeray (appointed 1746), and the famous classical scholar Dr Parr was one of its ushers. A second period of decline, which set in about 1805, removes it from importance during the great reforming epoch, and it only recovered with the headmastership of Vaughan (1844), who introduced the ideas of Thomas Arnold.
Charterhouse (1611) was intended for foundationers only. The almshouse attached was no peculiar feature, though it has been rendered more familiar than its fellows by the genius of Thackeray.
Rugby (1567) was the last of the seven to win its position. Its founder, Laurence Sheriff, left its endowment in the form of land just outside London. In course of time the houses extended over these lands, which were let on long leases. These leases began to fall in during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and the school suddenly found itself wealthy. James (1778-1799), its Etonian headmaster, seized the opportunity, and raised the numbers from 52 to 245. It was James and not Arnold who made Rugby large and famous; to Arnold was left the greater task of catching the popular imagination by a picture of an idealised Rugby which was the pattern for three generations of great headmasters in other schools.
It may be gathered that there was much mutual influence between these schools. Eton was the model for James's Rugby, this in its turn for Butler's Shrewsbury, and Shrewsbury repaid its debt to Eton by the influence of Butler's pupils. Goddard's Winchester inspired Arnold, and Arnold's Rugby had an even closer influence on Harrow, which at an earlier time had been influenced by Eton. But the influence of these schools was soon not to be confined to their own circle. From 184o onwards new schools sprang up on the same lines; the Arnold tradition shaped Cheltenham, Marlborough, Haileybury and many others; and the torch was subsequently handed on till it reached all the schools which were given new life by the Endowed Schools Act. It is this which renders the reform of the public schools so important. The smaller grammar schools, important as they had been in the past, had decayed, and their new vigour came to them from the public schools half a century later. History is concerned with the germs from which proceeded future growth, not with the vestiges of decay. For this reason we are not here concerned with the history of the Nonconformist Academies, which probably gave the best education that was known in the eighteenth century: for they underwent a sudden eclipse and hardly lasted into the new century.
The history of the public schools during the thirty years which preceded Queen Victoria's accession enables us to trace the origins of our present secondary school tradition. The gross evils of this period determined the lines on which the great headmasters of the next generation had to proceed in their reforming efforts. The genius of the reformers lay in diagnosing the causes of evil and turning many of them into means of good—indeed into instruments for destroying others which were irredeemably bad. We will begin with the intellectual side and glance at the curriculum of Eton as described by James1, which, with a little alteration, formed the curriculum of Rugby under James and of Shrewsbury under Butler.
The work of the sixth and fifth forms, which were taken together by the headmaster, gives the best indication of the standard which a classical school of those days aimed at. There were ten construing lessons in a full week: Homer's Iliad, 35 lines, two; Lucian, 40 lines, two; Vergil's Aeneid, 30 lines, two; Scriptores Romani, 40 lines, two; Poetae Graeci, 35 lines, one; Horace (hexameters), 6o lines, one; and seven repetition lessons, viz. in the pieces translated from Homer, Vergil, Horace, and the Greek poets, and in the Greek Testament (one) and a book of Latin selections (two). Horace's Odes and Greek plays were substituted for some of the other books during a part of the year. Three compositions were written each week, an original Latin theme, a set of Latin elegiacs, and for the sixth a set of Greek iambics or for the fifth of Latin lyrics. Declamations and speeches came at the end of term. This syllabus remained substantially unchanged throughout the long headmastership of Dr Keate (1809–1834); for except that a selection of Scriptores Graeci had been added to Lucian, who was till then the only Greek prose-writer read, and that the hours seem to be slightly fewer, it is the syllabus attacked by the Edinburgh Reviews in 1830. James's schemes contains all the Eton writers along with Cicero, Demosthenes, and Juvenal ; the Homer and Vergil are read in selections ; and there is one hour's history (biblical, classical, and English in turn), and one hour either of Milton or of mathematics. The compositions are the same, but only a few boys took iambics, which were so recent an innovation that Walter Savage Landor was under the belief that he was in the first batch of boys in any school to do them1. Even after Butler had been more than twenty years at Shrewsbury, Tacitus was the only addition2.
As regards the work of the lower forms at Eton, the first did nothing but Latin grammar; the second the Latin Testament, and catechism, and Phaedrus; the next form began Greek and read Latin selections; the fourth took Ovid, Aesop, Caesar, Terence, Latin selections, and Greek Testament; the Remove did Vergil, Horace's Odes, Pornponius Mela, Cornelius Nepos, and the Poetae Graeci. The younger boys did some writing and arithmetic, and some of the fifth took geography and algebra as extras.
The Edinburgh Review in 183o mercilessly analysed the old classical scheme of studies. It was essentially linguistic and stylistic. It did not reveal ancient life or thought. Scarcely an author was read consecutively. The authors were illuminated by no systematic course in ancient history. The choice of prose-writers was bad; Lucian was exalted and Thucydides neglected. "It is doubtful if any boy knows what the Persian and Peloponnesian wars were." The Poetae Graeci were not arranged in chronological order; the biographical notes were not enough to put the authors in their proper setting. In short "attention is distracted from the really important lessons of history and philosophy to grammatical and metrical trifling." But, setting aside this cardinal defect, even if the stylistic aim were to be accepted, was the study of selections written in all dialects the way to secure a good Attic (or any other) style? What defence could be made for the text-books? The notes in the editions were suitable neither for beginners nor for more advanced pupils. What purpose was served by the Latin translation of the Greek authors? Why were the grammars written in Latin? Even their contents were bad; yet they were used in other schools owing to the prestige of Eton. They had not kept pace with the " recent improvements of critics and philologists"; "they contain much that is useless and much that is inaccurate, they exclude much that is useful"; they are badly arranged; in the Greek grammar "needless rules and technical divisions are multiplied without mercy," till there were ten declensions and thirteen conjugations1. The compositions were noticeable for the "triteness of the subjects proposed for the Latin themes and the inattention to the mode of treating them." Had the reviewer condescended to discuss the teaching of the lowest form as well as that of the upper school, he might have found a still stronger ground of criticism in the devotion of a whole year's work to the memorising of accidence before the beginner was allowed to apply his grammar to the simplest Latin sentence. The absence of all non-classical subjects save as despised "extras" was too obvious a point of attack to be missed. Only one possible merit is allowed—the compositions stand out above the rest of the work. The Latin prose is very fair, and the verses may even be good.
Can we endorse this sweeping condemnation? Three questions are involved, (I) the almost entire confinement of studies to classics, (2) the purely stylistic aim in teaching classics, and (3) the effectiveness of the teaching in attaining the stylistic aim.
Two lines of defence are conceivable under the first heading. The first is that the schools were bound to confine their teaching to classics by their foundation statutes. One of the local grammar schools, Leeds, made a mild attempt to substitute modern studies and in consequence in 1805 found itself entangled in a law-suit, in which Lord Chancellor Eldon decided that, however desirable the change might be to the community and however much it might be wished by the great majority of parents, it was not the founder's intention and was therefore illegal. To this plea it may be answered that, before the Public Schools Act provided for the revision of founder's statutes, a modicum of mathematics, French, modern history and geography found their way into the regular curriculum of several of the public schools and that no one brought an action against them. The second plea is more forcible. No methods had been found of teaching most of the newer subjects save as mere memory work. As taught in the bulk of private schools and girls' schools, they were value-less. Making out the meaning of an author or writing a Latin prose at least involved real mental activity on the part of the pupils : memorising dates and lists of capes did not. But, valid as this argument is against most of the "modern" subjects, it fails against mathematics, which already fulfilled all the requirements of a good school subject. Cambridge sent out a plentiful supply of graduates who could have taught the subject as well as classics was taught. The pupils had an opportunity for using the mathematics which they learned at school in their subsequent university course. In view of these facts we can only conclude that the schools merely succumbed to the weight of inertia; and the generation which failed to stimulate them must itself share the blame.
The case is somewhat different with the second charge. The historical, political, and philosophical value of the ancient writers had to be discovered before it could be utilised in teaching. Up to i800 the best exponents of classics were still cast in the scholarly mould of Bentley and Porson. The literary criticism of Wolf, the artistic criticism of Lessing, the insight of Goethe, the historical criticism of Niebuhr, had to wake echoes in the English universities before they could produce an effect on the teaching in English schools. The Reviewers were right in raising the question in 183o. A few years earlier there would have been no one capable even of understanding the issue. And almost immediately afterwards we find Arnold adopting these very lines. But the slowness with which he found imitators is a justification of the Edinburgh attack.
Finally, narrow as was the aim which the schools set before them, can we say that they were successful in accomplishing it? It is here that modern opinion is apt to be a trifle unfair. We may grant all the defects charged against it; the methods at the early stages were of the crudest, and even at the upper stages Butler had almost everything to teach his contemporary headmasters; still, far more was accomplished than we should have anticipated. The public schools were doing better work than the universities. The freshman of those days went up knowing his Vergil and Horace by heart ; he could write a fairly polished Latin prose; and, if we admit that even a good versifier is "born, not made," the number is somewhat surprising. We should probably be wrong if we denied the schools a claim to have made the governing classes of those days more civilised by these means. Pitt's House of Commons would have been out of its depth if any speaker had presupposed an understanding of the political or ethical philosophy of Plato or Aristotle, but it was readily moved by humanitarian appeals; and it does not seem unreason-able to attribute its broad human sympathy, its love of stately oratory which appealed to the nobler elements in our nature, and its dawning consciousness of a national mission for the promotion of liberty, in part at least to its familiarity with a great literature. Canning, Peel, and Gladstone, no less than Chatham, Burke, and Pitt, were products of the old classical course.
We have dealt somewhat at length with the purely intellectual side of public school education because it is the hardest side for us who live in the twentieth century to appreciate, not because it is the most important. The other sides can be passed over more quickly at this stage, as it will be necessary to revert to them again in describing how they were remedied.
I. The boarding arrangements, in so far as they were in the hands of the school, as for instance in the case of the "collegers" or foundation scholars at Eton, were bad. The food was insufficient and had to be supplemented privately1. There were no private studies, so that opportunity for work was practically confined to the preparation hours. The dormitories were badly furnished and damp ; it is even said that the snow could drift into "Long Chamber1. " The household work was left to the "fags." There was no place to wash save at the pump. Matters were better in the dames' houses; Gibbon's account of these is quite favourable3. The change whereby boarding-houses tended to come into the hands of assistant masters may not there-fore always have been a change for the better.
2. Discipline, judged by modern standards, was in-tolerable. Assistant masters were not expected to take any part in its maintenance out of school hours ; and in school they relied on the terror inspired by the head4. Constant floggings could maintain some semblance of obedience for a time; then the suppressed discontent would break out in open mutiny. In two cases, at Winchester and at Rugby, these rebellions reached such dimensions that the military had to be called in. No semblance of confidence existed between masters and boys. Keate expected that all boys would lie to him, and took no pains to conceal his belief from them. The elder boys, on whom a modern headmaster most relies, were the ringleaders in insubordination.
3. The moral atmosphere was never good, and was sometimes indescribably bad. "A boy who passed unscathed the ordeal of a Colleger's life must have been gifted in no uncommon degree with purity of mind and strength of will5." There was neither influence to encourage good nor supervision to check evil. Save during class hours or private tuition masters saw nothing of their pupils. If a boy had the extreme good fortune to meet neither impurity, drunkenness, gambling, or open profanity, even so he would meet no elevating influence. His life was that of a slave till he grew strong enough to be a tyrant. Then too often the joy of feeling free was intensified by showing that he could bully his weaker schoolfellows.
4. School games were only taking shape during this period; no headmaster yet counted them as a means of training character. In James's school-days battledore, tops, hoops, and a host of forgotten games'. were as recognised relaxations for an Etonian as cricket, football, fives or tennis2, and hoops at least survived for another fifty years. By 183o, however, natural selection seems to have done its work. In view of these facts the suggestion that the Duke of Wellington's oft-quoted remark referred, not to the games, but to the fights which took place on the "playing fields of Eton" seems plausible.
This brief account is enough to show that two possibilities only existed; either the public schools must be reformed from within, or the whole system must be swept away, as it was swept away in Prussia by Humboldt and Stein. The evils were too deep-rooted to be eradicated merely by administrative action from without. Nothing but the life-work of men who combined great force of will and moral earnestness with consummate tact and the gift of influencing the boys could suffice for the task.