England - Five Famous Schools
( Originally Published 1910 )
SECOND in interest only to the houses in which they were born into life, are the buildings in which men of genius were born into the realm of knowledge. It is true these intellectual birthplaces prompt a reflection not wholly pleasing to those who have the cause of education at heart; for they suggest the thought that while the average boy reaps undoubted benefit from a thorough course of instruction, the boy of genius is by no means equally indebted to his formal tuition in school.
Here and there a schoolmaster to whom fortune has committed the early education of a famous man has been known to hint that his pupil's greatness was not unconnected with his teacher's surpassing ability ;
" The pedagogue, with self-complacent air,
and there are schools which sun themselves over-consciously in the reflected glory of those who were once numbered among their scholars. But really, when genius is in question, school or master counts for little. How preposterous it would have been had Shakespeare's achievements been placed to the special credit of the grammar-school of Stratford-on-Avon ! The un-due praise of any specific educational establish-ment inevitably recalls Lamb's witticism at the expense of the gentleman who thought all men of genius were manufactured at Harrow school. There was so-and-so, he said, and so-and-so, and thus on through a long string of names, following up each with the remark, " and he was a Harrow boy." " Yes," stuttered Lamb, " Ye-es ; and there's Burns, he was a plough boy."
Still, even the boy of genius must learn to use his tools. " You come here not to read," Arnold used to say to his Rugby boys, " but to learn how to read." And then there is that saying of Goethe : " Even the greatest genius would not go far if he tried to owe everything to his own internal self." So that, even although school does not count for so much with the boy of genius as with his comrade of ordinary talent, it counts for enough to impart considerable interest to the building in which his feet were set upon the highway of knowledge.
Though time has wrought sad havoc with the schools of many famous men, levelling some to the ground and so changing others as to leave them unrecognizable, it. yet has spared a few of those the world would be most reluctant to lose. Chief among such buildings is the picturesque structure where the boy William Shakespeare was once a scholar. Among the various edifices in Stratford-on-Avon associated with his immortal memory there is not one which has undergone so little change as the Edward the Sixth Grammar-School. Indeed, this is the one building upon which we may gaze with certain knowledge that the impression it makes on a modern retina differs but slightly from the image which the boy Shakespeare knew. The house shown as his birthplace is undoubtedly a fraud; the house he built for himself has long ago wholly disappeared ; but this school building is an authentic relic of the bard's early days.
In this quaint, half-timbered structure, then, somewhere about the year 1571, William Shakespeare, then a lad of seven, began the only academical training he was ever to receive. No anecdotes have survived from his school-days ; and all that can be affirmed about the education he was given here is that it included instruction in the language and literature of ancient Rome. In some grammar-schools of the period the elements of Greek were also taught, and if that rule prevailed at Stratford we need look no further for that " less Greek " which Jonson placed to Shakespeare's credit. Whether the future dramatist was an industrious scholar, or whether he himself was the
" whining school-boy, with his satchel
must be left an open question. But no one can gaze on these walls,' so reminiscent of his child-hood, without recalling Longfellow's poetic picture of the world's most famous school-boy
" I see him now
Brain for brain, would there have been much difference between the cerebrum of Shakespeare and that of Isaac Newton ? The whole universe is Newton's monument, said one eulogist ; the sun of Newton has absorbed the radiance of all other luminaries, declared a second ; and Emerson offers the greatest tribute of all in his pregnant sentence : " One may say that a gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the nature of Newton's mind."
Happily, while it is not known with certainty which were the rooms he occupied at Cambridge University, no doubt exists as to the building in which the boy Newton received his earliest training. Six miles from the ancient Lincolnshire manor house in which the future mathematician was born, is the market town of Grantham, in the public school of which Newton became a pupil. Two and a half centuries have passed away since then, but the school-house remains unaltered. On the opposite side of the road runs the wall of Grantham churchyard, the identical wall against which the young philosopher completed his fisticuff triumph over a more robust fellow scholar. The quarrel began when the two boys were on their way to school one morning, Newton's companion opening hostilities by kicking him in the stomach. When lessons were over, the kicker found him-self challenged to a fight in the adjoining church-yard, and so skilfully did his opponent handle his fists that it was not long ere he owned himself beaten. The only witness of the combat was the schoolmaster's son, who assured Newton that his victory would not be complete until he rubbed his opponent's nose against the wall. Thereupon, thorough in all he undertook, even as a boy, Newton seized his assailant by the ears and duly ground his face against the wall.
But Newton was not satisfied with that victory. His vanquished foe stood above him in the school, and it now dawned upon him that it would be more to his credit to strive after mental supremacy. Previously he had been an idle scholar, more absorbed in working out countless mechanical inventions than in his books ; but from the day of his victorious fight he addressed himself to his studies with such determination that it was not long before he rose to the highest place in the academy. When the day came for him to bid farewell to Grantham, his master made him stand in the most conspicuous place in the school, while, with tears in his eyes, he eulogized his favourite pupil, and held him up to the other scholars as one worthy their love and emulation.
Few men of genius have owed so little to schools and schoolmasters as Alexander Pope. So far as set instruction was concerned, his education was ended when he had reached his twelfth year. For the bulk of that knowledge which he used with such striking effect, he was indebted almost entirely to his own exertions ; " considering," he said, " how very little I had, when I came from school, I think I may be said to have taught myself Latin as well as French and Greek." Wordsworth has left it on record that his earliest days at school were supremely happy just because he was allowed to read what he liked ; and Pope derived equal pleasure from the fact that his freedom from the restraint of school gave him liberty to browse among books at his will, " like a boy gathering flowers in the fields and woods, just as they fall in his way."
Of the two buildings in which Pope received his earliest instruction, only one remains. It is situated in the Hampshire village of Twyford, not far from that Twyford House where Benjamin Franklin was so often the guest of his friend Bishop Shipley, and under the roof of which he wrote a considerable portion of his Autobiography. Pope was in his eighth year when he was sent to this lovely hamlet, but his genius was of such early growth that he had already translated part of Statius, and had made some attempts at poetry on his own account. Hardly had he been a year at school when some personal traits of his master appealed to his satiric faculty, and he forthwith perpetuated his ideas in verse. The poem was seen by the master, who promptly rewarded the young poet with a rejoinder more tangible than words. Resenting bodily punishment for his child, Pope's father immediately removed him from the school, and Twyford knew him no more.
But his year's sojourn in that beautiful village left its mark on his verse. Ere he entered his teens he had written his haunting " Ode on Solitude," and there can be no question that its pictures of the peaceful happiness of a retired rural life owe their existence to his Twyford days. His school-house here has been trans-formed into several tenements, but the alterations have so little affected the appearance of the building that it is not difficult to imagine what its aspect must have been when Pope dwelt under its roof.
Fragmentariness seems naturally associated with the name of John Keats. His greatest poem was left unfinished; his most exquisite ode is a torso ; than his, no life could be more truthfully. symbolized by a broken pillar. In strange keeping with all this, is the fact that of his school-house nothing save a mere fragment survives. Even that fragment owes its preservation not to its having been a portion of the building in which the poet was educated, but to the accident that it was an excellent example of early Georgian brick-work ! The house at Enfield of which it formed a part was built for a rich West-India merchant, and when it was demolished to make room for a railway-station the fašade was carefully preserved for the sake of its fine brick-work and rich ornaments. Hence its appearance in the South Kensington Museum, where, however, no record is made of the fact that the boy Keats often passed through this doorway in his school-days.
During the six years he spent at this, his only school, the future poet gave at first no indication of that passion for literature by which he was afterwards distinguished. Books had no attraction for him; what he lived for was fighting ; he would fight any one at any time, morning, noon, or night ; " it was meat and drink to him." Even his brothers were not exempt from his pugnacious exploits; " before we left school," said George Keats, " we quarrelled often and fought fiercely; " but if any one else attacked either of his brothers, John Keats flew to his aid. One day an usher boxed the ears of Tom Keats, and in an instant John rushed from his place in the school and faced the usher in a fighting attitude. Naturally, this reckless courage made him the favourite of the school, but even apart from that trait of his character he won the love of all his companions.
Suddenly, when his terms were drawing to a close, Keats, like Newton, dropped the character of the pugilist for that of the scholar, and he became so absorbed in his reading that he was never without a book in his hand. Even at supper, he would prop up a portly folio between himself and the table, " eating his meal from beyond it.
In harmony with the lowly social station of life into which he was born, none of these interesting school-houses has so humble an appearance as that in which Thomas Carlyle began his education. He was only five years old when he was enrolled among the pupils of "Tom Donaldson's " school in his native village of Ecclefechan, the master being, according to his famous scholar, " a severely-correct kind of man." But he qualified that opinion by recalling that his master was always " merry and kind " to him, and only severe to the " un-deserving." Tom Donaldson must have been a capable teacher, for by the time Carlyle had reached his seventh year he was reported to be " complete in English."
Two other buildings were to claim some share in the honour of training the great writer, the grammar school at Annan and Edinburgh University; but as he denied receiving much good from either, the lowly school house of Ecclefechan may be regarded as the most important factor in Carlyle's education. It is not now used for scholastic purposes, but those pilgrims from America who visit that Scottish village in such large numbers every year look upon this modest building with almost as much interest as that other little house in which Carlyle was born. Behind the school-house is the simple village graveyard where the friend of Emerson and the author of " Sartor sleeps with his lowly kindred.