There are not many school boys and girls past middle age who do not remember in pity for themselves the brawny-armed and well-equipped "master," who whipped into them what little book lore they possess. It was hard and cruel then, and in memory it loses none of its bitterness.

 

Well, nature kindly covers with the soft green mosses bare and unsightly places; she hangs her emerald drapery of vines over bleak walls, and transforms them into beautiful things and fair to look upon. Let us, remembering old hurts, then, cover them over comfortably with the words of Portia: "The Lord made him; let him pass for a man."

 

It was very common, and ludicrous, too, in the long ago days for boys and girls to be called by their full names in school, such as: Andrew Jackson Brody, John Quincy Adams Tannehill, Christopher Columbus Coulter, George Washington Fluke, Jeremier Sylvester Stebbins, Nathan Hale Wellington Fisher, Abiathar Ebenezer Hawkins, Peter Proctor Pettibone.

 

 

 

Rosella’s

other

stories

Our Schools, School-Houses

and Schoolmasters of Long Ago — No. 2

 

The following story appeared in an 1887 issue of Arthur’s Home Magazine

An old-time roll-call would be a valuable relic. How a boy in a hurry would sputter over the names, giving them in full! Nothing strange for the teacher to call out: "John Jefferson McDole, you and Simon Peter Chambers may go for a pail of water;" "Sophia Maria Boice and Mary Louisa Amaryllis Beals will sweep the house after school is out;" "Sebastian Cabot Culler may bring a load of wood;" "Mary Magdalene Crosser may take the pail and dipper home and scour them."

Think of the mother of ten or twelve children singing a good old Methodist revival hymn, while the treadles and shuttles of the clanging loom played the lively accompaniment, pausing occasionally to hail out a command to one of the children, giving in full the two, three, or four names it wore like easy harness!

 

In old times the two political parties were known as Democrats and Whigs, and sometimes party spirit ran high.

In the campaign of 1840, when good old General Harrison was the Whig candidate for President, the Whig children in school had the advantage. Because of some dereliction of the General's at Fort Meigs or Fort Maiden, the Democrats dubbed him " Granny Harrison." They had hard work to find anything to make capital out of, but among ignorant children this was good enough. A rude Democrat lad laid a plan, and all the boys and girls of his party in the History of the Late War class coincided with him. The reading lesson was about Harrison's troops gaining a victory over the English under General Proctor at the battle of the Thames, in October, 1813, when the renowned Indian warrior, Tecumseh, was slain. They read verse about, and wherever the name of General was used, the Democrats were to substitute "Granny" before Harrison. The rude big boy at the head of the class led off. He said "Granny" very distinctly and with great unction. The next did the same, and all the way down the class of seven the word General was ignored.

It was like the fable of the boys stoning the frogs; it was nearly the death of us.

 

The eight square ruler in the hand of an Irish teacher, whose best quality was his "main strength," well laid on, right and left, all the way down the class, noses, ears, eyes, hair combs, and side combs, no respecter of persons — surely the victory belonged to the uproarious Whigs! And how they did enjoy it! The big boys in woolen wamusses and baggy trousers clapped their hands in ecstasy, and the girls 'ee'h'd and laughed over a triumph thrust upon them.

 

There is a very romantic sequel to this incident, a delightful plot for a story, but it does not belong in this article on "Schools and Schoolmasters." We will say, however, that "he didn't get her!" She remembered this time!

 

The following winter the term was taught by a young man who was so cowardly he would not pass the graveyard alone after dark. He knew he would see his grand'ther or his grandmar rise right up, like "ole marster, all in white, lookin' like 'er ghost." Tales hang thereby. He was afraid to sleep with his face uncovered. More tales hang thereby. If he escorted a young lady home from a singing-school he never started with her from the house, but waited along the roadside until she came. When one of the boys inquired why he didn't ask the girl before they left the school-house, he frankly said: "I haint got the flow of language!"

 

One day at school a little string of white tape half a yard long dangled from one of his coat-tail pockets. Boys and girls all wondered what was at the other end of that string! No dogs ever watched a chippy up in the top of a tree with a more uneasy interest.

 

Finally a plot was planned. One of the boys "stalled" on that old sum in the Western Calculator, "There is a sum, to the double of which if you add," etc., etc., and took it to the master for assistance. Of course, he was lost to all else — oblivious to everything around him — it was so arranged. Then one of the girls —a black-eyed, rosy, curly, dimpled darling she was, and a favorite — performed her part in the plot. With wonderful skill and strategy she picked a pocket for the first time in her life. Slowly and cautiously she drew on the string. The pupil, standing looking over the pedagogue's shoulder, crowded closer — he hustled against him, coughed, and cleared his throat. The eyes of the dimpled girl grew brighter and brighter. No fisherman ever felt the line draw with keener anxiety. Slowly it came out — a nightcap; a good, stout, new muslin nightcap, made after the sturdy fashion of more than half a hundred years ago; had a wide, full frill all round, puckered head piece, felled seams, and two good strings — a cap made for service and comfort.

 

There was a great deal of fun among the girls cutting patterns over it, each trying who could make it more grotesque than another.

 

For a teacher "boarding round" and sleeping in all kinds of comfortable and uncomfortable places, the master's idea was a good one, and proved that he was sensible.

 

There was one teacher at the Berryhill school-house — the log house with the paper windows — that the old people who were scholars in 1817 to 1820 frequently mention.

 

He was a middle-aged man, fresh from Scotland. How he ever drifted along to the wild, wild new settlement no one knows, and no one ever will know now. He was a good scholar, a man of refined taste, studious, and though he was  companionable when warmed up at a social gathering, he did not "take to the ways" of the early pioneers. He made his home at "old man Cook's," as the free and easy gossipy run of the story has it. He had paper and ink and busied himself writing whenever he was not in school or out in the clearing picking brush.

 

His name was William Maxwell Adolphus Johnson, and on the yellow-brown, bent-over tombstone in the first old Berryhill graveyard the dim inscription gives his age as forty-five years. nine months and seventeen days.

 

There was a romance somewhere, but none of the old women ever found out what it was. He died suddenly. One day at school his commands were incoherent. He called Peter Bonaparte Westover, John Henry Atkins, and he mixed all names together in a dazed way, so that the children laughed at their master and tossed up their knit caps and talked out loud in time of school.

 

That night he fell into a deep sleep, from which he never woke until a few moments before his death. And then he tried to talk, and tried to reach out his hands toward his great white muslin knapsack in the corner that held his possessions, but death came swiftly and his desires were never made known.

 

When the sorrowing neighbors opened the knapsack to get the one white shirt to put on him, his little worldly store lay before them, and there, tied all up with dingy strings, was a novel in manuscript. It was written on coarse paper of all sizes, and was after the style of novels written in the long ago.

 

An old neighbor gave us the little bundle of manuscript. It was beautiful penmanship, good spelling, punctuated, paragraphed, and the story was of lovers who had troubles and trials hard to bear, but in the end they were happy and united. We never pass the dimpling hollow in the lone cemetery where sleeps the poor old schoolmaster without pausing and laying a hand reverently on the stone, dim with creeping lichens — we touch as reverently as we would the head of one bowed in sorrow.

 

There was one teacher sixty-five years ago who was a very pious man, not a prig, not over-pious, but a good man, one of those men who leave the world the better for having lived in it. He came very nearly getting into serious trouble once.

It was a noon spell. The scholars had eaten their lunch. The master sat at the far end of the school-house picking out a knot in arithmetic. The big boys and girls were playing,

 

"Come, Philander, let's be a-marching,
Every one his true love sarching,"

 

when there was a knock at the door that seemed to have been made with a maul.

 

Philander halted short off in his march, and his followers took their seats. It was the school officers. They "had hearn a bad report about the master." He had been swearing, using profane language, and they — they had come in an official body to see about the charge. Old Nathan Blazer was the spokesman. He was the class leader, and the leader in every movement.

 

It is too lengthy to give in the original vernacular of the director, but his son, Hiram Theophilus Blazer, had reported the fact at home, and as it was a matter of serious importance the august body had called to investigate the charge.

 

Hiram, a tow-headed lad of seventeen, not out of Cobb's Spelling-book yet, was called on. He hustled out to the front, his yellow wamus, dyed with the flowers of the golden rod, laid back off his shoulders as though he was bound to get his share of free oxygen, his roomy breeches harnessed on by one suspender, and his shambling feet almost tramping on each other.

 

And this was his story about the master using profane language, given in a slow, jerky sort of speech, while both bashful hands churned and rummaged in his pockets:

 

"We was a skeetin' on the crick, me and the marster, an' I got ahead o' him long down to'ards the squirl tail riffle. The fust thing I knowed, I skeeted on to where the ice wa'u't good-like, an' I fell sprawlin'. An' the marster he come clos' up behind me, an' he fell sprawlin' ter!, An' I scratched up, an', fore I thought, I up an' sed, 'I got a devil of a fall,' an' he right up and sed, 'So did I!'"

 

While Hiram was talking — excited by the momentous occasion — his voice rose higher and higher, until it finally culminated in a squeal.

 

And that was the end of the charge against the teacher for swearing. The school officers sneaked off, heartily ashamed of themselves.

 

There is nothing in nature that makes a drearier picture than a new field, possibly once or twice half-tilled, with dead girdled trees standing, and unsightly stumps scattered thickly over the rough ground, while the bare, bony, outreaching branches are limned against a bleak, gray winter sky.

 

Place in this field a low log schoolhouse of from 1816 to 1835, and the picture is perfect and true to life.

 

The horrible pictures in Dante's Inferno show the skill of the terribly inspired artist. Once seen they are never forgotten.

 

"Break on thy Cold Gray Stones, O Sea!" The illustration accompanying Tennyson's poem of that title is dreary, desolate, gloomy, but to us not more dismal than this home scene framed in by these now beautiful, woody hillsides and valleys in the long, long ago.

 

Nearly all the "boys and girls" sleep in the Berryhill graveyard near together — a little city of the dead — a silent neighborhood.

 

And just across the little bit of picturesque creek valley, shut in by a circling range of bold, uneven hills, that level lying, pretty plat of ground is the site of the memorable log school-house.

 

And there "have golden,harvests followed quiet tillage above a peaceful soil" for years, after years and years.

The summers come, and summers go, and the musical song of the reaper is heard there as it sweeps away and gathers the golden grain from off the sacred ground.

 

And the few remaining boys and girls turn aside that they see not the sacrilege.

 

And with the pioneer poet-painter who looks upon the dim past with eyes anointed, we dream and listen:

 

"Don't you hear the children coming —
Coming into school?
Don't you hear the master drumming

On the window with his rule?
Master drumming, children coming
Into school?

"Don't you hear the scholars thrumming?

Bumble bees in June!
All the leaves together thumbing,

Like singers hunting for a tune?
Master mending pens and humming

Bonny Doon?"

© 2011 Peggy Mershon                                                                                     Contact at marwelmer@aol.com