Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Revenues and Management of Certain Colleges and Schools, and the Studies pursued and Instructions given therein, with an Appendix and Evidence (1864).
The Public Schools Commission has concluded its operations by the publication of four large folio volumes, three in double column and small type, and containing in the aggregate 1,912 pages on the subject of nine public schools—Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, St. Paul's, Merchant Tailors' Harrow, Rugby, and Shrewsbury. Notwithstanding the immense bulk and the multifarious character of the matter which they have published, it must be owned that the Commissioners have done their work exceedingly well, and that the volumes which they have produced are more interesting than almost any Blue Books that have been published of late years. The report in particular, if its form were less formidable, would be generally recognised as an interesting and instructive book. It begins by stating the general results of the inquiry and the general recommendations of the Commissioners, and it then describes in detail each of the nine schools into the state of which inquiry was made, adding such recommendations as its peculiar circumstances required. The schools in question were founded between 1387, the date of the foundation of Winchester, and 1609, the date of the foundation of the Charterhouse. They contained, at the end of 1861, 2696 boys, divided as follows:
Eton - - - 783And in Michaelmas term of that year 558 out of 1,674—or (oddly enough), exactly one-third of the under-graduates at Oxford—and 305 out of 1,483, or nearly one-fifth of the undergraduates at Cambridge, had been educated wholly or in part at one or the other of them. Considering how accurately the universities represent the most wealthy and powerful class of English people, and that the nine schools in question supply a third of the students of the universities, no surprise need be felt at the extreme interest which the proceedings and the report of Commissioners have excited. There can be no doubt that the public are greatly indebted not only to the members of the House of Commons who caused the commission to be issued, but to the well-known and energetic reformer, who, considering that Eton had "committed crimes," proceeded to attack it in the Cornhill Magazine.
Winchester - - 197
Westminster - - 136
Charterhouse - - 116
St. Paul's - - 141
Merchant Tailors' - 262
Harrow - 464
Rugby - 465
Shrewsbury - - 132
For some time past there had been a sort of conservative reaction in favour of the old public school system, and against the general knowledge theory, which contributed so much from ten to fifteen years ago to the alterations made in the course of study at the university. Tom Brown and his imitators, and those from whom Tom Brown drew his inspiration, had so glorified football and cricket, and had mixed up Mr. Kingsley's theories and Dr. Arnold's practice into a composition so attractive to a considerable part of the public, that the public schools had come to be invested in the eyes of the world at large with even more than usual of that halo which individuals are always prone to throw over places in which they have passed a pleasant and important part of their lives. It is the easiest thing in the world to get up a romance about schools in general, and especially about schools of sufficiently old standing to have a history, customs, and associations of their own.
Apart from this small temporary cause there are permanent and general causes which make people more conservative about education than upon any other subject. Whatever else schools do or fail in doing, the natural operation of parental feeling affords good security that they will, on the whole, succeed pretty well in bringing the sons up to the fathers' level. A school frequented by the sons of average English gentlemen will be pretty sure to turn out a succession of average English gentlemen; and it is against all nature that men in general should really have a low opinion of their own standard of thought and manners, especially when they see it reflected in their sons. A parent is generally so partial a judge, that a school must be very bad indeed before parents in general will allow their sons have been ill taught. If the boys enjoy themselves and behave reasonably well, the great majority of parents will be apt either to assume that the teaching has been thoroughly good, or to acquiesce in almost any theory which gives any sort of plausible excuse for its being no better.
Whatever the reason may be, it is in fact certain, that there is hardly any subject which has been so much overlaid with more or less brilliant sophistry as the question of public school education. It has sometimes appeared to the British parent rather a singular thing that he should have to pay incredible sums in order that his boy may be taught a very little Latin and hardly any Greek, which he never uses after he is grown up; that he should learn no mathematics at all, and not even arithmetic, that he should leave school without knowing a word of French, or the commonest events in English history, and that he should have to show, as the result of a public school education, hardly anything more than the right to say "when I was at Eton or Harrow." It is wonderful to see how these and other profane suggestions of the same sort have been usually charmed away by phrases about the contrast between education and information, the training of the mind, the necessity of letting boys alone and making them gentlemen, and the like. The real meaning of all which is: "Your sons are very like yourself. Eton has done for them pretty much what it did for you. You are a very fine fellow in esse and in proeterito, and they are very fine fellows in posse and in futuro." Sometimes a higher strain is played. Many people have fallen into a way of writing about the classics which borders on the mystical. Mr. Gladstone, for instance— whose manifestations sometimes convey the impression that he views politics and finance principally in the light of ballast detaining him from his native clouds—addressed a letter to the Commissioners "On the scope of the inquiry, and on classics as the basis of a liberal education." In this curious performance he observes;
"But why, after all, is the classical training paramount? Is it because we find it established? Because it improves memory or taste, or gives precision, or develops the faculty of speech? All these are but partial and fragmentary statements, so many narrow glimpses of a great and comprehensive truth. That truth I take to be that the modern European civilisation, from the middle age downwards, is the compound of two great factors. The Christian religion for the spirit of man, and the Greek (and in a secondary degree the Roman) discipline for his mind and intellect. St. Paul is the Apostle of the Gentiles, and is in his own person a symbol of this great wedding. The place for example of Aristotle and Plato in Christian education is not arbitrary, nor in principle mutable. The materials of what we call classical training were prepared, and we have a right to say were advisedly and providentially prepared, in order that it might become not a mere adjunct, but in mathematical phrase the complement of Christianity in its application to the culture of the human being, as a being formed both for this world and for the world to come."
This is an excellent specimen of the sort of webs of words which imaginative persons delight in weaving about institutions which strike their fancy. Mr. Gladstone cannot be content with any reasons in favour of a classical education, till he has got back to resolving European civilisation into its factors, and mixing it up with St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles; who assuredly got a greater reputation for classical scholarship out of three quotations than any other person on record. As to his "great and comprehensive truth," it would be more properly described as a big and incomprehensible phrase. What can be meant by saying that the place of Aristotle and Plato is not arbitrary or in principle mutable in a Christian education? What is the meaning of assigning to Plato a place in "Christian education" (whatever that may be) which though mutable in fact is not mutable in principle? Does Mr. Gladstone mean that a youth who has passed through Eton and Oxford or Cambridge ought to have read a certain proportion of Aristotle or Plato, both the quantity and the relation to other subjects being fixed by an unalterable law of nature? and if he does not mean this, what does he mean? How, again, can any one seriously say that the intricate mass of phenomena which we describe collectively as European civilisation may be shown to be composed of Christianity and classics? Surely physical science, which has hardly anything to do with either, has exercised some influence over the intellect, and it would be a great abuse of language to describe the moral and spiritual influences which produced, and have, in their turn, been intensified by the French Revolution, as exclusively Christian. The laws and political institutions of all countries have in them much that can be traced neither to Greek and Latin nor to Christianity. In short, our civilisation is the product, not of two but of a thousand factors, and what is more, their number, their positive and relative importance, their direction and their utility, are constantly varying. Mr. Gladstone's reasons for thinking as he does of the classics are about as reasonable as it would be to say that Sanscrit is the noblest of all studies, and that its place in a Christian education is not in principle mutable because it is the common parent of Greek and Latin.
The report of the Commissioners is perfectly free from this sort of more or less brilliant sophistry. It gives a very precise and natural account of the schools, and of the system pursued in them, and makes this account the text of what seem to us to be on the whole singularly moderate and sensible recommendations. The substance of them is as follows:—
The nine schools in question present great varieties of constitution and government. They may be reduced to three types. Eton, Winchester, and Westminster, are on the Cathedral or college model, the chapter being in the two first cases accessary to the school, and the school in the next case being accessary to the chapter. The Charterhouse and St. Paul's are richly endowed foundations, and Merchant Tailors' is a rich though unendowed foundation for the education of London boys; at least the fact that they are situated in London that two are governed by London Companies, and the other (the Charterhouse) by the governors of a great London charity, tends to connect them closely with London, though other places reap benefit from them. The remaining three, Harrow, .Rugby, and Shrewsbury, are mere country free schools, two founded by private persons—John Lyon and Laurence Sheriff, and the third by Edward VI., whose foundation was enlarged by Queen Elizabeth. The Provost at Eton, the Warden at Winchester, and at Westminster the Dean and Chapter, exercise considerable authority over the schools, especially over the boys on the foundation. The Provost of Eton "exercises over the management of the school a control which is very extensive and minute." The Warden of Winchester is legally in the same position and in practice appears to have great power. At Westminster the control of the Dean or Chapter is confined to the forty foundation scholars. In the other schools the legal property and some amount of governing power more or less, according to circumstances, is usually vested in trustees or governors, but for practical purposes the head-master may be regarded as absolute. This is especially true of Harrow, Rugby, and Shrewsbury. At the London schools the governing bodies have more power. The foundation of most of these schools provide^ for a master and an under-master, or as he is called at some places an usher, but besides these there are in every case a number of under-masters appointed, generally speaking by the head-master, and paid partly by him and partly by the profits of boarding-houses and private pupils. There is a considerable variety in the way in which the incomes of the masters are made up, but the general result which is sufficient to show what class of men are likely to be admitted to the profession may be estimated from the following table.
The incomes of the assistant masters vary considerably, being derived principally from their boarding houses. Those who have the larger boarding-houses at Rugby make about £1,600, and the others £700 a year. The classical assistants at Eton when they get a boarding-house (for which they have to wait till a vacancy occurs) make, according to the calculations of the Commissioners £1,845 a year. Their salary is only 40 guineas. At Harrow the salary is larger, but the profits of the boardinghouses are less. Mr. Harris, who keeps the largest of them, puts his professional income at £1,800 a year. At Winchester the second master receives £958, the third £468, and the fourth £283 a year, besides which the two last take boarders.
As to the expense of the education to the parents, it is difficult to estimate the matter correctly, inasmuch as the personal expenses of the particular boys vary according to circumstances; but the following bills were actually sent in, and were mentioned to the Commissioners as fair average specimens:—
[* Average between highest and lower.]
It thus appears that the small houses at Harrow (limited in their number to seven boys) are the dearest of all; that Eton is next dearest, and that the other schools vary from about £100 to about £130. The endowments of the various schools, which in the case of Eton amount to £16,000 a year, capable of considerable increase by proper management, are expended in the main upon foundation boys; and in the cases of Eton and Winchester on the chapters attached to those foundations which exercise no perceptible influence at all on the education given in the school. Except in one of the London schools, the salaries to the head-masters form an insignificant part of their incomes; and the under-masters are, for the most part, paid either out of the profits of the headmaster, or by boarders. Thus the endowments do not cheapen education to the public at large; and contribute to the efficacy of the schools only by providing buildings, playgrounds, and other apparatus of that kind, and by insuring the permanency of schools once established, and the maintenance of what are perhaps rather affectedly called their "traditions." It is a remarkable fact that the largest of all the incomes should be earned by the Master of Harrow, the poorest of the schools. The income of the school itself is little more than £1,000 a year.
Such is the general nature of the foundations themselves. The course of instruction given in them all is pretty much the same, though there are great and striking differences in the energy and efficiency with which it is carried on. In all the schools, without an exception, classical literature is the standard staple study—Articulus stantis vel cadentis ludi—and notwithstanding all the mystery which has been made of the classics and their influence on the mind, the reason of this is as plain as possible. With the exceptions of Eton and Winchester all the schools were founded at the time of the revival of learning, and at that time there was nothing which could be called literature, either ancient or modern, except classical literature; whilst science was taught in so irrational and barbarous a way that the establishment of classical schools, was in itself a revolt against it. Three hundred years ago it was as revolutionary a proceeding to teach boys Greek and Latin with a view to their becoming students of Greek and Latin books, instead of teaching them a little Latin with a view to their studying scholastic theology and metaphysics, as it would be in the present day to substitute the study of Goethe and Shakspeare for that of Homer and Virgil. Harrow, the youngest but one of the schools, was founded when Shakspeare was seven years old, and at that time the literature of England and France hardly existed at all. Of German literature it would not be possible to say so much. The very language was hardly in existence. Even the popular literature of the day was written in Latin. Erasmus wrote Latin, and so did Hutten. To learn Latin and Greek then was by no means altogether unlike learning French and German now. Latin was the literary lingua Franca of Europe, and Greek was the vehicle of a wonderful literature endowed in the popular apprehension with more or less mysterious qualities. Mathematics were still in their infancy, and physical science and natural philosophy did not exist at all. Scholastic logic, theology, and such other topics as could be scholastically treated were the science of the day, and the system of classical and literary education owed its origin to a revolt against them founded on a perception, more or less distinct, of the fundamental unsoundness of their premises and conclusions.
When the system was once established its duration was perfectly natural. Endowments are essentially conservative, and nothing in the world is so conservative as an endowment connected with education. There is something in the position and habitual pursuits of a schoolmaster which is radically antagonistic to change. He is the representative of authority in its most stringent form, and it is his special province to teach to youthful pupils the lessons which may be learnt from the existing order of things. He must teach, too, what he knows, and of course, like all other men, he magnifies his office. In the same way his pupils value what they have learnt merely because they have learnt it. Thus the particular branches of knowledge which are cultivated and rewarded at school or college, acquire a conventional value independent of their real importance. They are considered to be the distinctive accomplishments of gentlemen, and are thus kept in honour and magnified from generation to generation.
It is thus easy enough to understand how classical education, itself originally a bold innovation, came to assume its present position, and to be regarded with a sort of mystical reverence, as not only the best, but almost the only possible subject matter of a liberal education. In these days, however, every institution is put on its trial, and those which can only explain and not justify their existence are virtually doomed to extinction. Classical education, like other things, must submit to this fate, and must show cause why it should continue to be the staple of the highest training given in England, and why it should not be superseded by something else of more direct and obvious utility.
Various pleas are offered in its favour of very different degrees of importance. There is first Mr. Gladstone's plea already quoted, which affirms in substance that the moral and artistic merits of classical literature are so great that the intrinsic value of a classical education fully repays the labour and time bestowed on it. Secondly, it is said that language is the vehicle of thought, that grammar is the theory of language, that the grammar of the classical languages is exceedingly perfect, and is for many reasons most convenient for the purpose of instruction, and that a boy who is thoroughly well instructed in the Latin grammar is furnished with a key to his own and to most other modern languages. Thirdly, it is said that the object of education is to train the mind, and that this object is better attained by giving boys an accurate knowledge of two elaborate languages than by storing their memory with statements about facts. These are the principal arguments alleged in justification of a system which, as a matter of fact, was established with little or no reference to them. They invite several observations.
First, as to the intrinsic value of a knowledge of classical literature, there can be no question at all that, bulk for bulk, no literature in the world can be compared to that of Greece and Rome. It contains in a very few volumes, and those not very large ones, the works of the greatest epic, dramatic, and moral poets, the greatest philosophers, and some of the most remarkable historians that the world has ever seen; nor can there be a question that the style of these works is superior to that of any but the very best of modern compositions, or that the languages in which they are written are far more regular and harmonious than our own, though neither so copious nor so accurate. It cannot for a moment be denied that the acquisition of the power of understanding and loving such a literature is as noble an exercise of the mind as can be imagined. It is the best of all correctives to the besetting sins of modern times, luxury, vulgarity, and that perverted and narrow conception of utility which looks upon nothing as useful which does not immediately and perceptibly affect our personal comfort. All this ought to be fully granted and insisted on, but it must at the same time be accompanied with an observation so obvious as to amount almost to a truism. A classical education is a noble thing if it teaches a boy the classics, but not otherwise. If you are to get any good from .2Eschylus or Sophocles, you must be able to read those authors with sufficient ease to find some pleasure in them. A boy who at eighteen can construe Virgil with pain and grief, and is just able to get through a few verses of the Greek Testament with the help of a general recollection of the original English might just as well know neither Greek nor Latin. There is no charm about these languages. To know the Latin verbs and declensions imperfectly, is not equivalent to having got the entree to an intellectual heaven. They neither do nor can affect the character of the student, unless he has some real and sympathetic knowledge of the literature, based on a sound critical mastery over the language. How many boys are there at our public schools, how many students at the Universities, who have acquired anything of the sort? This is one of those simple questions which go to the root of the matter. The» Popular Education Commissioners, five years ago, attracted considerable attention by pointing out the fact that of the large number of children educated partially at the public expense, an immense proportion did not learn to read and write with ease and comfort to themselves. This observation naturally disgusted those who with infinite pains and trouble had constructed an elaborate and expensive apparatus which produced almost everything except the required results. The Public School Commissioners wished to examine a certain proportion of the boys at public schools in order to find out how much was actually learnt. The masters (with two exceptions) objected to and defeated the plan. No examination was held, and the public are therefore deprived of the best evidence on the subject, and compelled to content themselves with such evidence as could be extracted from University tutors, as to the state of education of the young men who came up to them from the public schools. Their evidence is most unsatisfactory. Christchurch contained, in 1862, 150 undergraduates educated at public schools, of whom seventy-seven were from Eton. About one-third of the students are plucked at the matriculation examination, on which occasion they are expected to construe a passage of Virgil and Homer which they have read before, to write a bit of Latin prose, to answer some simple grammatical questions, and to show some acquaintance with arithmetic.
"Very few," says the Dean of Christchurch, "can construe with accuracy a piece from an author they profess to have read. We never try them with an unseen passage. It would be useless to do so."The Senior Censor of the same college remarks with charming impartiality—
"Between the average boys educated at Eton and Harrow I do not observe any marked difference. The former, perhaps, exhibit greater ignorance of the rudiments of Latin and Greek grammar."Mr. Kitchin finds a difficulty in saying whether grammatical knowledge is diminishing or not. He rather thinks it is.
"On the whole, I am inclined to think it has gone backwards, for I can imagine it better; it would be hard to conceive it muchThe general result is summed up by the Commissioners in these remarkable words:—
"With a great mass of men school education—and that education one which barely enables them at last to construe a Latin or Greek book, poet, and orator chosen by themselves, to master three books of Euclid, and solve a problem in quadratic equations—is prolonged to the age of twenty or twenty-one."There is something half humorous half pathetic in contrasting this with Mr. Gladstone's glowing language about modern European civilisation being the compound of two great factors, and the Apostle of the Gentiles typifying this mystical union. The result of the comparison is, that the civilisation of the average English gentleman appears to be the product of one book of the Anabasis construed with a crib, multiplied into a superficial knowledge of the church catechism. The bounty of Providence is certainly wonderfully illustrated by the fact that St. Paul was set apart to typify this glorious result.
If we go above this low but common level the number ot men who are really good scholars, whose scholarship that is, is good enough to have exercised a perceptible influence over their minds is surely very small. The knowledge and habits acquired in after life, especially in the exercise of a profession, or in connection with any favourite pursuit has far more effect on the character than any school acquaintance with the classics. Compare, for instance, the effect on a man's mind of political life, of legal or medical study, or of a taste for political economy or natural science with the effects of the course of reading by which he came to take a high degree, and the second is nothing as compared to the first. A fairly good scholar will very probably have read Thucydides four or five times between the ages of 17 and 22. From 22 to 25 or 26, he will have studied a profession. At 30 you will see the marks of his profession in every one of his actions, but you must look very close and guess very hard before you can trace anything particular in the Thucydides.
This appears to us to be a conclusive answer to the first plea in favour of the existing system. It would be necessary in order to support it, to maintain that the public advantages derived from the intellectual benefits conferred on that small proportion of boys at the public schools whose minds are really moulded by classical literature are so great, as to overweigh the evils which result from the fact that the immense majority learn literally nothing during the first twenty-one years of their life which is afterwards of any use to them, with the single exception of the power of reading, writing, and elementary arithmetic. This is neither rhetoric nor exaggeration. Compare a young English gentleman of fair abilities, educated at Eton and Oxford with his own sister, what are their respective attainments at twenty-one? They have both learnt how to behave themselves, they have both learnt certain moral principles of conduct, and have received some degree of religious training. These results are invaluable as far as they go, but look at their intellectual attainments. Each can speak, read, and write the English language without conscious difficulty and without any great grammatical impropriety. Each knows arithmetic enough to do common housekeeping sums, or to follow an ordinary calculation in the newspapers. What do they know beyond this? The boy has learnt as much Latin and Greek as will enable him to take a common degree at Oxford or Cambridge, and that is about as much as would enable him on a pinch to work his way through a page of Caesar or a chapter of the Greek Testament with the help of a dictionary. It is perfectly certain that he will forget even this in a year or two. He has besides this an imperfect acquaintance with a few propositions of Euclid and a little algebra, which he is taught in many ways to consider as a kind of learning radically inferior to Greek and Latin. This shows that the really valuable part of what he has learnt is the power of reading, writing, and cyphering. His knowledge of the English language has given him a key which he is sure to use, and that key will unlock a vast storehouse of every sort of knowledge. It is no less strange than true that the really useful part of the intellectual education of young English gentlemen is over at seven years old, as soon as they have learnt to read and write. The great bulk of their subsequent acquisitions is attained by the use of these accomplishments at their own discretion.
It is very different with the young man's sister. If she is at all carefully taught she probably has at 18 or 19 a very serviceable knowledge not only of her own language but of French and German, and a knowledge more or less considerable of both music and drawing. She will probably know no mathematics at all, but there is no reason why she should not if her parents care to have her taught, and she is also pretty sure to have made at least some sort of pretence of learning something about history. She knows neither Greek nor Latin, but it is very unlikely that she will ever feel the want of a knowledge of either, unless indeed, upon those rare occasions where a common acquaintance with Latin is rather convenient.
No doubt in a vast majority of cases the degree of thought and knowledge of various kinds possessed by the young man is incomparably greater than that which is possessed by his sister; but this is not because he is better supplied with tools, but because by reason of the superior strength of his sex, he has made much more zealous use of the one intellectual tool which he does possess—the power of reading English books. A boy who has any sort of curiosity, and who lives with relations whose minds are at all cultivated, will pick up in conversation, from newspapers, or in miscellaneous reading, a great deal of knowledge of the most valuable kind before he is twenty-one, and will have formed opinions on all sorts of subjects which will colour the whole of his subsequent life. This is his real education. The trifling amount of Greek and Latin accidentally associated with it, has, in a vast majority of cases, no perceptible influence on his mind.
Of all the strange fallacies and inversions into which people fall, when they set themselves to find recondite explanations of obvious facts, and to bolster up manifest abuses by elaborate figments, none is stranger than the inverted result of the theories with which we are all so familiar, about the vital importance of forming the mind, the distinction between education and information, and other such topics. We are told, in the first place, that the object in view ought to be the strengthening of the mind. That the mind is to be strengthened by discipline, that Greek and Latin grammar and composition give this discipline, and that a mere desultory acquaintance with facts does not give it. Therefore, it is concluded, teach your pupils grammar and composition in their youth, and let the knowledge of facts come afterwards. In all this, there is not only plausibility, but a certain degree of important truth, as we shall try to show immediately; but what is the practical result? The boys will not and do not learn Latin and Greek grammar and composition. They get merely an inaccurate smattering of those languages which never does them the least good at any period whatever. On the other hand, they do and will learn facts. They read books and newspapers, they talk about politics and religion, they buy novels, and magazines, and reviews,—in a word they drink in by every means in their power all sorts of information as to what is going on in the world in which they live; and when they grow up to be men they regulate their conduct and form their opinions by the knowledge and upon the principles so acquired. If this is not educating by information, what is? The advocates of education against information have in fact destroyed their own theory. They have arranged a system of education (as they would call it) so futile and impracticable that the most desultory and unsystematic ways of obtaining information constitute, in point of fact, almost the whole mental training of the great bulk of English lads.
Measure, by a strict examination, the positive definite acquirements of an average English gentleman, and he is an ignorant blockhead, possessed of no other attainments than those which a common labourer's son carries away from a national school at twelve years of age; yet the difference between an English gentleman and an English labourer or mechanic is as great as if they belonged to different species. If anyone has been seduced by popular novels into doubting this, let him try to fancy what his own life would be if by Act of Parliament he was married to his wife's maid; or what his wife's life would be if she were married to his footman. The difference is entirely the result of education—but of what education? Not moral learning, for the moral principles of the poor are often as good as those of the rich; not Latin grammar and Latin prose, for the mistress is as utterly ignorant of each as her servants. The difference lies in the artistic and intellectual habits formed, and in the knowledge acquired, in the course of many years by imperceptible degrees and in a desultory unsystematic manner. This is what we really mean by the education of a gentleman, and the complaint brought, and as we think fairly brought, against the system of education found in our public schools is that its express teaching hardly affects it at all, whereas it both might and ought to do so.
For these reasons it would seem that the intrinsic value of what actually is taught by the masters at a public school is, in the great majority of cases, extremely small. This in itself disposes of the assertion that it forms a good mental discipline, for the mind cannot be disciplined by that which it does not take in.
Let us next, however, consider whether the classics, as taught at our great public schools, are a good mental discipline for anyone, even for those who really learn them. There are considerable differences between school Und school as to the way in which they are taught, but, speaking generally, it may be said that classical literature is less taught than the classical languages, that composition, especially at Eton, is insisted on to a great degree, and that mathematics and modern languages, in so far as they are taught at all, occupy an inferior position. Is this the best way to discipline the minds of those who are taught? The argument that it is, is of this kind. It is said language is the vehicle of thought, and grammar contains the theory of language. Whence it follows that practical acquaintance with grammar is the first condition of accurate thought on any subject whatever. Moreover, the classical languages are both the most systematic and most convenient for teaching purposes. This argument is entitled to far more attention than the one which we have just discussed. Its statements are indisputably true. The knowledge of grammar is highly important, and there are the most obvious reasons of convenience in favour of taking one at least of the classical languages as the vehicle by which it is to be conveyed. Indeed we may go further, and admit, and even insist upon the proposition (which probably is what the advocates of education as opposed to information really have in their minds), that education ought to be, to a great extent, abstract; that is, it ought to consist in teaching languages and sciences, which, like arithmetic or geometry can be put into an abstract form, rather than in teaching such a subject as history, which from the nature of the case is boundless in extent. The reasons for this are self-evident, and require nothing more than a bare statement. Abstract knowledge, once acquired, is, if not universal, at all events general in a very high degree, and provides a framework without which facts constitute little else than a confused heap of memoranda. No doubt also abstract knowledge affords a much better system of mental drill than anything else. So far then, we think the public school system is right enough. It fails, not in teaching abstract knowledge but in teaching the wrong kind of abstract knowledge, and that in the wrong way. Abstract knowledge is to be taught partly because it affords a framework for facts afterwards acquired, and partly because it affords an excellent discipline for the mind. Consider each of these reasons, and the second first. Neither abstract knowledge nor anything else affords any discipline for the mind at all unless it is not only learnt, but so thoroughly learnt as to affect the mind which learnt it. If Chinese were so constituted as to afford an admirable discipline for the mind no one would think of teaching it in schools because it would be impossible to interest the boys in learning it. The abstract knowledge, therefore, to be taught must be knowledge which will be learnt. But how can this be provided for? The answer is perfectly simple, though it seems to have struck schoolmasters but seldom and then slightly. To get your pupil to learn he must be interested, and to interest him you must choose such branches of abstract knowledge as are of direct practical utility, and teach them in such a way as to show their connection with their practical results.
Of course this cannot be done with very young boys. Probably it will be necessary to the end of time to teach children to read and write, and to teach very young lads the Latin grammar by the good old rule and simple plan of driving it into their memories by pertinacious and conscientious drudgery. The father and mother, the governess, the usher at the private school, must of course go on for some years patiently grinding hic hac hoc and verbum personale concordat cum nominativo, into the very soul of the pupil by almost mechanical processes if he is to do any good at a public school. But as the child grows into a boy, as his mind opens, he ought to be taught grammar in the concrete form; he ought to be made to read Latin and Greek books, and to read them so as to understand what they are about; grammar of course is indispensable to this, but this on the other hand is indispensable to grammar. The only way in which a boy can well be tempted to get a practical knowledge of the value of rules as well as a mere recollection of the rules themselves, is by teaching him to apply them to real passages of Greek and Latin, and showing him that they do in fact open the sense of those passages.
Assuming, then, that knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages is the right kind of abstract knowledge to give to boys at public schools, it would seem to follow that the right way to give it is by making them read and understand Greek and Latin books; and upon this we would add, that in our judgment the proper kinds of classical books for boys are history, philosophy, and oratory. They are far more important in themselves than poetry, and a much greater number of lads are capable of taking a genuine interest in them. Twenty boys will get real benefit from Caesar's Commentaries, or from Cicero's orations against Catiline, for one who will in the least degree appreciate Virgil, Horace, or still more Ovid, whose sentimentality and superstition are surely strange wares to put into the head of a young Englishman of the nineteenth century. In one of the schools, as we shall hereafter show more particularly, this sort of instruction appears to be given, and to be given, perhaps, as well as the inherent difficulties of instructing lads who are not of a studious nature, and whose circumstances do not compel them to study, will admit, but in others, and especially in Eton, a way of teaching the classics prevails of the evils of which it is hardly possible to speak too strongly. The masters appear to think that a classical education means, as a rule, such an acquaintance with Greek and Latin as will enable boys, not to read Greek and Latin books, but to write Latin verses. In other words, they regard composition as an end in itself, and not (as they ought) as a mere step towards acquiring familiarity with the grammar of the language. Arnold's exercises, or some book of the sort, are the only kind of composition which is really worth doing. Suppose a grown up man wants to learn a particular language—German, for instance—for the purpose of carrying on a particular branch of study; how does he do it if circumstances prevent him from living in Germany? He first learns the grammar, he then resolutely struggles through a German book, dictionary in hand, he learns to put into German sentences of some sort of intricacy—"I should have done so if I had not heard that you intended to do it yourself." "Should you have gone home if you had not been told that it was going to rain," &c., &c., but it never occurs to him to write German themes or verses. The reason is that he really wants to know the language without waste of time, in order that he may read the books in it which interest him. If Greek and Latin are to form a real study, his son ought to learn them in the same way. To express an involved and intricate sentence correctly in a foreign language, is no doubt strong proof of acquaintance with the rules of that language; to be able to write verses and themes in it, proves hardly anything beyond the possession of a certain graceful knack of arranging words. It is consistent with great ignorance of grammar, and absolute ignorance of books. But there is a stronger objection to the practice of writing poems and themes than its mere uselessness. It is injurious as well as useless. To write verses at all, unless a man is a great poet, is idle and generally mischievous nonsense. Few men would be pleased if their sons were to write what are called the poems of Praed, yet not one Eton boy in five hundred learns to write verses in any degree approaching to them in excellence. The one great object of the Eton system used to be, and to some extent it would appear still to be its object, to convert all the cleverer boys, in spite of men, gods, and columns, into second-rate poets, instead of members of parliament, country gentlemen, clergymen, lawyers, and public servants, who will probably play their parts in life without ever attempting to write anything that could possibly be twisted into poetry.
The result is that that small minority of boys who really do learn anything at all at the public schools, learn their classics in a way which on the whole is unsatisfactory. They ought, in the first place, to be perfectly well grounded by elaborate conscientious drudgery in the grammar, and this is not the case. They ought, in the next place, to be taught composition, exclusively with the view of teaching them the languages critically, whereas a great deal of their time and thought is utterly wasted in attempts, for the most part abortive, to cultivate an idle and rather mischievous accomplishment. Lastly, they ought to read Greek and Latin literature, whereas in many of the schools they do nothing of the kind, but go on year after year reading little books of extracts, and leaving altogether unread the great works of the language. In a word, the classics are studied, not as a real serious branch of knowledge, but as an accomplishment, proficiency in which is ascertained by purely conventional tests. If, in any serious sense of the words, classical literature is to be made the basis of a liberal education, if the mind is really to be affected by it, it ought to be taught as a serious study. A certain number of classical books ought to be read through and well understood and appreciated. The rest is mere ornament, and is often useless or mischievous ornament.
So far, we have argued on the supposition that the knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages is the best kind of abstract knowledge that can be given at a public school; but how far and with what limitations is this true? It is undoubtedly the best kind of abstract knowledge for certain purposes. Grammar cannot be taught better to children than in the form of Latin grammar, and the practical value of Latin in almost every walk of life, and especially as a key to modern languages, is so great that no education that did not include it could deserve to be called liberal. Is this, however, true of Greek? Greek literature cannot be over-praised, and a real acquaintance with it is beyond all question a possession for ever. But does the amount of Greek which a rather dull lad learns in the course of his education, represent any acquaintance at all with Greek literature? Would it enable him to enter in the least degree into any question as to the propriety of the translation of a verse in the New Testament? If not, the time which the majority of boys give to Greek is thrown away, and might be more usefully employed in other ways. Now let it be remembered that the knowledge of the German and French languages is just as much abstract knowledge as the knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages,, and that though their grammar is not so elaborate or systematic, it is quite elaborate enough to furnish a severe mental discipline if it is seriously taught. If anyone can conscientiously say that there is a mental nourishment in learning the verbs in μι or understanding about aorists and optative moods, different in kind from that which is to be derived from learning the irregular verbs in French, or from arranging the relations of seyn, haben, mussen, sollen, and werden in German, we can but wonder at him. Surely Noel et Chapsal may be made as exquisite an instrument of torture as Buttman, and it is quite as irritating to hunt over seven or eight lines of intricate German in the vague hope that there may be something in the nature of a verb at the end of them, as to try to find out what it is which renders a part of a speech in Thucydides unmeaning. As to the comparative value of a serviceable knowledge of French or German—such a knowledge as would enable one to read a newspaper without much difficulty, and such a knowledge of Greek as would enable one to construe an easy piece of Xenophon, there can surely be no serious comparison between them. Add to this, that a lad can be taught French and German by appropriate means, that he may easily be led, unless he is very stupid indeed, to take pleasure in reading French and German books, and that it is morally certain that in perhaps four cases out of five he will never be induced to learn Greek at all; and surely there can hardly be any room for doubt that in ordinary cases he had much better not pretend, to learn Greek at all, but couple with his Latin grammar either German or French.
As to mathematics the case would seem equally clear. There can simply be no bona fide question at all as to the value of mathematics as a mental training. Geometry and algebra are the most perfect illustrations which exist anywhere of abstract truth, and correct and powerful reasoning. They have, moreover, this enormous advantage, that every one who is not a natural fool can learn them if he is moderately well taught. Considering the circumstances of the age in which we live, it seems simply monstrous that any one who pretends to be a gentleman—to belong to the class whose natural function it is to take the lead in government and in thought— should be altogether ignorant of these things. The immense importance of all sorts of mechanical contrivances in this age of railways and telegraphs, is of course one obvious reason for this, but there is also a deeper and more general reason. It is the constant and pressing temptation of the age to rest satisfied with results, and to overlook the principles to which they may be traced, and by which alone they can be produced. Nothing is a better corrective of this, than some degree of acquaintance with mathematical modes of thought and argument.
There are other subjects besides these for which a place is claimed in a liberal education. It is said, for instance, that not only mathematics, but natural philosophy and physical science, in its various branches, ought to be taught. To this it is, perhaps, enough to say, that it is never worth while to teach anything at all to boys unless it is taught well; that a selection must be made, and that exceptions excepted, nothing can be introduced into the ordinary school course, except subjects which are of the very highest, most obvious, and most general utility, and which have been reduced to forms so simple, that there can be no mistake about them, and no dispute as to what the boys who learn them ought to learn. Natural philosophy, that is to say the general theory of the properties of matter, chemistry, physiology, and other subjects of the same kind, have far to go before they can be made the subject-matter of teaching in schools, if, indeed, that ever happens. The present generation of masters cannot teach them, for they do not know them themselves, nor is it possible to teach any subject, till it has been broken down into its elements, and put into a form so simple, that ordinary teachers may be trusted to put it well into the minds of ordinary learners. At present the indispensable apparatus of school books and teachers upon such subjects as natural philosophy does not exist. We must therefore lay them altogether out of account, and assume that the subject-matter of instruction at the public schools will continue to be languages ancient and modern, and mathematics. Let us consider what would be a reasonable and practicable scheme according to the principles just stated.
In the first place, a boy ought to learn to read and write, and to do some arithmetic in his own home before he is seven years old. He ought also to have begun both Latin grammar and French by the same age, and to have made some solid progress in both before he goes to a private school, say in his ninth year. If he stays at such a school till he is thirteen or fourteen, and if the master of it did his duty and knew what drudgery meant and what it could effect, a boy of thirteen ought to know his Latin grammar perfectly, and to be able to construe easy Latin in a correct mechanical way; he ought also to know a good deal of arithmetic, and have a serviceable knowledge of French. This, with proper work, enforced by good sharp discipline, might be driven by a severe and determined master (and to be good a schoolmaster ought to be both) even into a stupid boy, and that in such a way that he would be some years in forgetting it. A clever boy, besides knowing a good deal more Latin than a stupid one, would know a certain quantity of Greek, and if French were considered as a subject to be taught and kept up at home, he might have learnt at school a good deal of German instead. As the real difficulty of learning German consists in the profuseness of its vocabulary, it is more difficult to learn it in mature life than French or Italian, which are mastered by a person who knows Latin as soon as he understands the grammar. Suppose then, that at fourteen a boy goes to a public school with a sound elementary knowledge of Latin, French, and arithmetic, if he is stupid; and with a serviceable knowledge of Latin, and German, and arithmetic, and a certain knowledge of Greek, if he is clever, he might surely, in the course of the next four years do one of two things. If stupid, he might read several Latin books, such as Caesar, parts of Cicero, and parts of Livy, in such a way as to get a sound knowledge of the language and a real acquaintance with the subject-matter of what he reads. He might also learn to read French well, and German with some degree of facility, and he might master one or two books of Euclid, and as much algebra as would enable him to do easy simple equations. If he were clever, he might in the same four years get a real knowledge of the most remarkable parts both of Greek and Latin literature, and an equally sound knowledge of German, and he might carry his acquaintance with Euclid and algebra considerably further. There is no reason why he should not know the whole of the first six books of Euclid, and the greater part of algebra. A clever boy who learnt as much as this at school, would in all probability find it easy to teach himself French enough at home to read it without conscious exertion.
In order to carry out such a scheme as this several things would, no doubt be absolutely essential. In the first place it would be necessary to sacrifice composition as it is studied at present. This we should regard as a positive advantage, for the reasons already given; but apart from this it would also be necessary to redistribute the classes in such a way that the slow boys should not keep back the clever ones; and that the clever boys should not prevent the slower ones from receiving any instruction at all, as is now very often the case. Above all, it would be necessary to introduce a thorough change into the feelings of the boys on the subject of their studies, and to lead them to attach the same importance to modern languages and to mathematics, as they now attach to the classics.
There would no doubt be considerable practical difficulties in working out such a scheme. In the first place, the existing generation of masters are sure to be vehemently opposed to it, both because it would considerably reduce the value and dignity of the accomplishments which they have passed their lives in acquiring and in teaching, and because it would involve a great deal of trouble in redistributing the classes of the schools in such a way that the boys who, to use the university distinction, went in for honours should be separated from those who went in only for a pass. We do not pretend to discuss what is and must be a practical question to be worked out by the practical experience of school masters, but the difficulty must surely be one which a little tact and perseverance would readily overcome. Some steps towards dealing with it have already been made by one or two schools which have adopted more or less of the system which is known in France as bifurcation. That is to say at a certain age the boys choose between carrying on their classical studies with a view to going into the university and receiving what is rather vaguely called a "modern" education; learning, that is to say, subjects which are in demand in other professions than those for which the university is supposed to be a preparation, such for instance as engineering, competitions for the scientific branches of the army, &c. This experiment is as yet in its infancy, and is being tried at Cheltenham, at Marlborough, and at Wellington College, but it does not exactly meet the difficulty which arises from the failure in the great majority of cases to teach anything worth teaching. What is required is a course which a rather stupid boy can by proper means be made to learn well, and another and higher course which if well learned by a clever boy will be of great practical value to him for the rest of his life.
As for altering the feelings with which the boys regard their studies it is a mere matter of discipline. Let a boy see that the course of study at the university assumes as a matter of course that he knows French and German, and gives weight to such knowledge in competitions for fellowships; let him know that classical composition is regarded at the universities merely as a test of accurate grammatical knowledge of the classical languages, and let him further know that the sort of knowledge there honoured and rewarded, is knowledge of books and subjects, and he will soon cease to regard the classics with that almost superstitious and mystical veneration which their present position is calculated to produce on the schoolboy mind.
The recommendations of the Commissioners upon the points which we have been discussing, appear to us, on the whole, sound and wise, though we regret that they appear to recommend that both Greek and Latin should be learnt by all the boys throughout their whole course. It is our strong opinion that unless Greek is sacrificed in the case of stupid boys, stupid boys will never get a serviceable knowledge of either French or German. They are pretty sure to learn a certain quantity of Latin, but if they are taught Greek as well under the present system, it is all but certain that the modern language which the Commissioners advise to be added to the course will occupy an inferior position and will not really be studied. We think also that it is to be regretted that they take no notice of the importance of using composition for its proper purposes only. One of their recommendations which is of the highest importance and deserves the strongest support, is, that no boy should be allowed to stay in the school who does not get on.
"For this purpose," says the commissioners, "certain stages of progress should be fixed by reference to the forms into which the school is divided. A maximum age should be fixed for attaining each stage, and any boy who exceeds this maximum without reaching the corresponding stage of promotion, should be removed from the school."As the sors tertia cadi is practically taken away, the alternative aut disce aut discede ought to be rigorously and inflexibly insisted on.
Such is, and such in our opinion ought to be, the system of instruction pursued in the public schools; as we have already observed, there are very great differences indeed between the degree of efficiency with which the system as it exists is carried out in different schools.
These practical differences are of far greater importance than differences as to the theory of education like those already observed upon. Although there is a very great difference, and a difference the importance of which is constantly underrated, between a good system and a bad one, there is no doubt a much greater difference between an efficient and an inefficient system. The reasons for this are sufficiently obvious and familiar, but one is conclusive. A violent reform in the present, as in many other cases, is out of the question. We must start with the existing schools and the existing teachers, and no doubt their methods, their habits, and even their prejudices, are entitled to be treated with great respect, not only for the sake of what they have done, but because schoolmasters actually engaged in the practical work of education are sure to know a great deal about it which outside observers do not and cannot know, though of course they overlook other matters which the standers-by observe. If, therefore, we find some of the schools zealously and vigorously conducted, according to their existing rules, and really teaching the boys something, with the due amount of energy, they are entitled to be treated with the highest respect, and to be improved in the gentlest possible manner. It it is only where a school is distinctly inefficient that more rigorous measures of reform should be employed. The result of the report of the Commission upon this head is obvious enough to anyone who reads their report and evidence. As we have already observed there are very great differences indeed between the efficiency with which the system as it exists is carried out at different schools. It would be tedious and uninteresting to the great bulk of our readers to go through them all. With one lamentable exception no one of the schools can be called positively bad when judged by its own standard. Winchester appears to be energetic and well-conducted, and it leaves, as Dr. Moberly says, a "clearly denned stamp or mint-mark." It produces "a strongly marked religious character" on the Wykehamists at Oxford. Whether this is an advantage or not would depend a good deal on the sort of religious character produced, but this is a wide question. The school seems to do its work effectively. The same may be said of Westminster and the other London schools, though they are exposed to special drawbacks on account of their position. Shrewsbury is a singular school with a most inconvenient constitution, a small number of scholars and a master who has a special gift for teaching his pupils the way to get high university distinctions.
The three really characteristic schools—the picked specimens of the whole system are beyond all doubt Eton, Harrow, and Rugby. Of these it may be said in a few words that Rugby seems to be as good as under present circumstances an English public school can be; Harrow is also good though not so good, but Eton, as far as teaching goes, is about as bad as it is possible for a school to be, though this must be coupled with the undoubted fact that there is abundant evidence to show that the lads who leave Eton are for the most part gentlemen in every sense of the word—thoroughly well-behaved, honourable, and pleasant to deal with. The school also seems to be singularly free from vice. All this only heightens our regret at the wretched character of the teaching. It is monstrous that such good and well-disposed lads should, at an enormous expense to their parents, learn hardly anything except what they happen to teach themselves.
In order to show the way in which the public school system actually works we now proceed to describe an4 compare the best and the worst of the number, Rugby and Eton.
First as to Rugby:—Rugby in 1861 contained 465 boys, taught by a head-master, thirteen classical, three mathematical, and two modern language masters, all of whom stand on the same level as regards rank and standing in the school. The school is divided into three subordinate schools, the classical, the mathematical, and the modern language. Every boy is obliged to belong to the classical and mathematical schools, and either to the modern language, or to classes for natural philosophy. The classical school is divided into twelve forms, three of which are broken up into what are called parallel classes. That is to say, three large classes are instructed in the same or nearly similar subjects, by six masters, and the boys in the parallel classes in their progress through the school, pass not into the other class, in the same parallel, but into the class next above it. The four first classes form what is called the upper school; the four next the middle school; and the remaining four the lower school. (The word "school" at Rugby, by the way, has as many meanings as the word "remove," at Eton.)
There are two terms and two sets of holidays—at Christmas and Midsummer—in the year, besides which boys are allowed once in the half-year two days' leave of absence. During the terms there are in every week besides Sunday, three whole school days—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—and three half-holidays — Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every third week there is a fourth. The boys get up at 6:30. They are in school from 7:15 to 8:15, from 10:15 to 12:15, and from 4:15 to 6. On half-holidays there is no afternoon school, and on Wednesdays the lessons are somewhat differently arranged. Dinner is at 1:30, and supper (bread and cheese) at 8:30. The boys go to bed at 10. Besides the lessons in school, the boys have to do composition out of school. The sixth form do three exercises a week. The boys spend, on the whole, in the upper school about fourteen hours a week in the classical class rooms, three hours a week in the mathematical school, and two hours a week in the modern language school. The progress of a boy from form to form through the school is determined by examinations, so arranged as to apply a strong stimulus not only to exertion at particular times, but day by day throughout the year. Marks are given for every lesson, and till the boy reaches a considerable height in the school he may improve his place in his form at every lesson, and a record is kept of these marks. The promotions from form to form occur four times in the year. Twice a year, namely, in June and December, there are general examinations, in which the boys of each form are examined by the masters of the other forms. The marks which they get at these examinations are added to those which the master of their own form has given them for their work in form during the quarter, and the promotions are regulated by the result. The promotions, which take place at the intermediate quarters, are regulated entirely by the marks gained by work in the forms. Arrangements are made, by which the marks gained in mathematics and modern languages are taken into account in determining a boy's place in the school, as well as those which he gets for classics.
The subject-matter of the teaching depends upon standing in the school. Divinity, principally in the shape of the Greek Testament, is a prominent subject. As a boy rises in it, he gradually cares to read books of increasing difficulty. The list in Latin is Ovid's Epistles and Caesar; Virgil's Eclogues, and Horace's Odes, Cicero's Orations, Sallust, The Fasti, Livy, The Georgics, Cicero de Officis, Cicero de Natura Deorum, Juvenal, and Lucretius (Why is there no Tacitus, and no Terence or Plautus?). In Greek the list is Xenophon, Homer, the Anthology, Herodotus, Euripides, the easier plays of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides, the harder plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Plato (Would not a little Demosthenes and Aristotle be better than such a quantity of poetry ?). The composition done is for the most part translation, and it appears that the proportion of translation to original composition is on the increase. Besides this, almost every boy in the school learns both French and German for two hours a week, but the practical result is certainly not very great, for it appears that "in the highest form .... scarcely any could take up a French newspaper and read it with pleasure." They appear, however, to get a useful acquaintance with the elements of both languages, for there was evidence that "boys who learned French and German entirely at Rugby, could read and speak fluently after a few weeks' residence abroad." In mathematics the ordinary class work at Rugby takes an ordinary boy through arithmetic, a certain amount of algebra, and the first four books of Euclid. Arrangements are made by which boys with a special aptitude for such studies, may take extra private lessons, and 106 boys do so.
Besides the "regular work of the school, there is at Rugby, as elsewhere, what is called the tutorial system—an odd sort of accessory to the ordinary work of the school. Every boy (in practice) is allotted to one of nine of the assistant masters as a private pupil. This master looks over the exercises which he does for the master of his form, and also does extra lessons with him for at least two hours in the week, which lessons are so contrived as to have an influence on the boy's place in the half-yearly examinations. This singular arrangement, Dr. Temple defends on the double ground that it enables the masters of the lower forms to be acquainted with the work of all parts of the school, and that it provides means by which every boy in the school may be brought into relation with some one master who will watch his progress and care for his general interests.
To such a system as this there is very little objection to be taken if it is conceded that classics, and especially that classical composition ought to continue to occupy the place in a liberal education which is at present allotted to them. The most serious defect in it would appear to be that the two modern languages learnt—French and German—jostle each other. Two hours a week would be little enough one would think to give to either of them; but to try to make a boy learn both in such an allowance of time seems a sort of mockery.
Whatever may be thought of this and other points of a similar kind noticed by the Commissioners, it is impossible to read the account of Rugby and the evidence given about it, without feeling that it is an active vigorous place, where the boys go for the purpose of working, and where every means short of that individual personal supervision which no one but a private tutor can give, and which when given is not very favourable to independence and energy of character, is provided for the purpose of stimulating exertion. The boys are kept at their books all the best part of every day, and every precaution is taken to see that each boy learns something at each lesson.
Eton presents a remarkable contrast. It contained in 1861 783 pupils, and is, perhaps, on the whole, the most splendid and gorgeous school in the world. The account of the work done in it is a matter of wonder, and when it is remembered that Eton in its present state is a vast improvement on the Eton of twenty years ago, which again was an improvement on the Eton of forty years ago, it is marvellous that such an institution should have obtained the position in the world which Eton undoubtedly has gained. The phenomenon must be explained, by the reflection that many of the boys sent there had extraordinary advantages in the way of birth and connections, and great personal talents; and that, in some cases, they were fortunate enough by these means to avoid the bad effects which might otherwise have been produced upon them.
The education at Eton is all but exclusively classical. Since 1851, three hours a week of mathematics have been added, and the whole school is obliged to attend the lessons given on those occasions. The school, however, is divided on the whole with reference to classics. There are seven forms, one called the remove, and the rest known by their numbers. The first, second, and third form the lower school; the fourth, the remove, the fifth, and the sixth form the upper school. Most of these forms, however, are subdivided into upper and lower removes, so that the total number of classes in the upper school is eleven. The masters are a head-master, a lower master, who is the head-master of the lower school, and fifteen classical assistants; there is besides a mathematical assistant (Mr. Stephen Hawtrey), who stands on the same level in point of rank and authority with the classical assistants, and who is himself assisted by seven other assistants, who, in strict accordance with the whole spirit and temper of the place, are put in an inferior and mortifying position, though it is admitted that they are in education, birth, and every other conceivable way fully the equals of the other masters.
As for modern languages they form no part of the Eton course. There is a French master—Mr. Tarver—who was himself educated at Eton, and whose father held the same position before him. Mr. Tarver's position is singular, and one would think not only mortifying, but so contrived as to be all but degrading. Mr. Tarver considers himself with great apparent reason as "a mere objet de luxe." He receives from each of his pupils ten guineas a year, and gives two or three hours' work in the week. He has about eighty pupils, which as far as money goes, is satisfactory enough; but as the boys go when they like, and are never punished for staying away, as the study has no influence on their position in the school, and is viewed apparently with unfavourable eyes by the headmaster, the whole state of things is absurd.
"If a boy neglects his work or fails to attend, Mr. Tarver's only remedy is to complain either to the head-master or to the tutor. But the present head-master ' does not appear to like to interfere.' 'Reports to him are unavailing.' Mr. Tarver states that the second time he had reason to complain to him he was told that he had better find out whether the boy had any excuse for non-attendance —a thing impossible for him to do till it was too late to call the defaulter to account. If he appeals to the tutors, they either take no notice of it, or content themselves with pinning up his report on the pupil-room wall."
That Mr. Balston should think that it lay on the master to show cause why the boy should not play truant, and that the classical assistants should pin his complaints to the pupil-room wall, ceases to be surprising when we turn to Mr. Balston's evidence on the subject of learning French. That a man in his position should be able to give such evidence is in itself not merely a sufficient proof of the necessity of a searching reform at Eton, but an explanation of the principal difficulties which may be expected to stand in the way of such a reform. Unless Mr. Balston can be induced to reconsider a good many of his opinions, Eton will never be what it ought to be.
3.522. French is not yet considered by the Eton authorities as a thing which ought to constitute part of an English gentleman's education?—That is an other question; I do not deny that it is considered as part of an English gentleman's education.
3.523. (Lord Lyttelton.) You consider that it is?—Yes.
3.524. (Lord Clarendon.) Would it not be considered necessary by the authorities of Eton to render obligatory a thing which they considered ought to be part of an English gentleman's education?— I should not.
3.525. You should not consider its teaching obligatory?—I should not consider it obligatory to devote the school time to it.
3.526. Is it necessarily learnt at Eton?—No.
3.527. You would not consider it necessary to devote any part of the school time to its acquisition?—No, not a day.
3.528. You do not intend to do so?—No.
3.529. Do you not think that it is a matter that a boy should be be required to learn?—He ought to learn French before he came to Eton, and we could take measures to keep it up as we keep up English.
3.530. What measures would you take to keep up French, and I may also add, what measures do you now take to keep up English at Eton ?—There are none at present,. except through the ancient languages.
3.531. You can scarcely learn English reading and writing through Thucydides?—No.
3.532. (Sir S. Northcote.) You do not think it is satisfactory?— No; the English teaching is not satisfactory, and as a question of precedence I would have English taught before French.
3.533. You do not consider that English is taught at present? —No.
Mr. Balston's objection to teaching French is as characteristic as his theory that French ought to be learnt before a boy goes to Eton, and to be kept up at Eton by him in the same manner as English, which in his opinion is not kept up at all. His objection, say the Commissioners, appears to be, "that the teaching of the classics at Eton is not so satisfactory that any time could safely be abstracted from it for other studies." In plain words, classics are so ill taught that we have no time to teach French. Whatever we may think of the merits, not to say the decency of this excuse, there can be no sort of doubt that it is founded on fact. The classics and everything else are taught exceedingly ill at Eton. When we look at the way in which they are taught, at the inducement to idleness held out by the general system of the school, and at the childish way in which the time for work is distributed, the wonder is that any Eton boy ever learns anything at all.
The general fact admits of no doubt. As to the University distinctions gained by Etonians, the Commissioners say—
"The distinctions gained by Eton men when compared with the numbers of the school do not certainly entitle it to rank among those which are most successful in this respect, but it sends out a fair number of good and well-instructed scholars."This is very cold praise indeed, for the results of the education given at the greatest school in England. Mr. Balston's own admission upon the subject is perhaps the most remarkable piece of evidence that can be quoted. He is the most ardent of Etonians. Those points which appear to others the most obvious faults in the system are merits in his eyes, yet he admits that the general result is a failure. In answer to the question, whether he has any faults to find or any improvements to suggest, he says, "I think that from some cause or other the success of the work has not been in proportion to the pains bestowed upon it." This he afterwards explains by saying that the boys are not properly taught grammar before they come to Eton, and that it is then too late to teach them. He admits, however, in subsequent answers, that in a few years this could be remedied by a really effective entrance examination. As for so many years things have gone on as they have, is it too much to construe this evidence as an admission that Eton has failed to teach itself, and has also encouraged parents to send their sons in a state of such gross ignorance that if the masters were willing to teach them they would scarcely be able?
Though it may be a mystery to Mr. Balston that his pupils succeed no better, it can be no mystery to any one else who reads his evidence. In the first place, the mode of teaching is so foolish that it might have been supposed to be intended to disgust boys with all learning; and at the same time so inconceivably clumsy that the masters are absolutely overwhelmed with needless and unprofitable work. In any sensible system an arrangement would be made—as arrangements are made at Rugby—for gradually increasing the difficulty of the books read by the boys according to their age. At Eton a boy reads nearly the same books over and over again during all the most important part of his course. The upper school, as already noticed, contains eleven divisions. Of these five are in the fifth form. Four divisions of the fifth form, in which a boy passes the two critical years from fifteen to seventeen—the very heart of his school time—read the same books over and over again without change or variety. They read these books moreover entirely, or almost entirely, in the shape of extracts, never reading through any author except Horace and Homer, They read no Greek plays at all, except at the very top of the fifth form and in the sixth form. As if the dreariness of this routine were not in itself enough to destroy the interest of the boys in their studies, the whole system of promotion is so arranged as to prevent anything like emulation. At Rugby, boys get marks for their lessons, and their place in the form depends upon them. At Eton the boys below the fifth form take places in school, but no record is kept of their performances; in the fifth form even this trifling pretence at competition is given up. At Rugby, as at Harrow, the boys are examined several times in the course of the year and are promoted by competition. At Eton, a boy is placed in a particular " remove" as it is called, when he goes to the school and stays in it till he leaves, or gets to the upper division of the fifth form, rising regularly by two steps every year, as a matter of course, subject only to the necessity of passing an examination at the end of each term, called "collections," as to which the evidence is that it is a very easy thing to scrape through collections without reproof or punishment.
Twice only during his course through the upper school does a boy have to go through any examination of the slightest interest, namely, when he passes from the fourth form to the remove, and when he passes from the remove to the fifth form. On these occasions a remarkably clever or ambitious boy may take two steps at once, but with this exception no exertions and no abilities will affect his position in the school or even in his own class. There is hardly any attempt to make up for this absence of stimulus by giving prizes. The Newcastle scholarship and medal, and Prince Albert's prize for modern languages, are the only ones worth notice. There are a considerable number of other prizes and scholarships, but they are confined to the boys on the foundation, and are given merely according to a general estimate of merit, and without the test of an examination. The general character and tone of the school in this respect is described by the Commission with that cautious reserve which Commissioners very properly practise in dealing with great institutions, but which convey to a discerning reader a good deal more than the bare meaning of the words contains:—
"Eton employs sparingly, more sparingly perhaps than any other great school, the spur of emulation. In the system of promotion, the hearing of lessons, even the awarding of prizes, there is comparatively little of direct competition, and the distinctions which are given are not conspicuous enough to make them objects of general ambition or respect. Instead of emulation, reliance appears to be placed on the sense of duty, the influence of association, of parents, and of tutors, and what may be called the mechanical movement of the school; there has been an aversion to positive pressure of any kind; a great reluctance to exclude on account of mere backwardness, whether caused by idleness or by incapacity; a strong and laudable anxiety to afford all the boys as much liberty as they could safely enjoy, and ample scope for healthy amusements."In unofficial language, the Eton system is to let the boys be as idle as they and their parents please. It is worth while to consider more carefully the means by which this desirable end is accomplished. At Rugby, as we have already observed, the boys are actually in school on whole schooldays for an hour or more in the morning, two hours in the middle of the day, and about an hour and a half in the afternoon, in all about four hours and a half. On half-holidays they are in school for about three hours. The holidays and half-holidays alternate regularly, and there are three exercises a week which have to be shown up every other day. This is a definite, regular, practical scheme, by steady adherence to which it is perfectly certain that a good deal of work will be got out of a boy. The Eton system is quite another thing:
"The general difficulty," says the report, "which to the headmaster and some of his colleagues appears to forbid any extension of the school work beyond Latin, Greek, arithmetic, and mathematics is want of time."Considering the small amount of work done, this seems extraordinary, but when we look at the details the matter is easily explained. The boys are never in school for as much as an hour at a time. The school hours are scattered over the day as if for the purpose of frittering away time; no two days in the week are alike, and no two successive weeks are arranged in the same manner. The following passage from the report sets all this in the clearest light in a very few words:
"For the remove and nearly the whole of the fifth form in a regular week there are three whole schooldays, and on each whole schoolday four schooltimes, lasting about three-quarters of an hour each, in the whole about three hours. On Tuesday and Saturday there are two schooltimes, both in the morning—an hour and a half altogether. On Thursday there are three schooltimes or about two hours and a quarter. The number of hours in a regular week during which the boys are in school is therefore between fourteen and fifteen. Besides this they have their work in pupil-room and so much as is necessary for the preparation of lessons and exercises. But the great number of occasional holidays make a regular week a very rare thing. We were told that in one particular school term there was not one regular week. Every saint's day is a holiday, and the eve of every saint's day a half holiday, and half holidays are granted also on many other occasions, such as a birth in the family of a fellow, the appointment of an Etonian to an office of distinction, and the like. But as a holiday does not excuse the boys from any part of their composition, the consequence is, that the work of two days has very often to be crowded into one, and that it can seldom be exactly known beforehand what the distribution of the work will be."If these arrangements had been made for the express purpose of teaching the boys to be unbusinesslike, slovenly, and unpunctual in all their habits, they could not have been better calculated to promote that purpose. One special absurdity connected with it is the practice about chapel. On a holiday the boys have to attend two full services in chapel, often choral services. These are attended virtually as roll-calls, and answer no good purpose, besides wasting a great deal of time. To have instead daily prayers of a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes would be so obvious an improvement that even Mr. Balston admits that in that one particular it is just possible that the existing state of things might be altered with advantage. The subject-matter of the instruction given, seems as ill-conceived as the arrangement of the time for giving it. We have already referred to the wretched system of teaching by extract books, which, by the way, is so decidedly condemned by experience that although the Eton books used to command a great sale, their sale is now confined almost entirely to Eton. But other parts of the teaching are equally bad. The composition is, for the most part, what is ironically called original. That is to say, the poor boys have to squeeze out of their own heads some faint imitation of prose and verse every week, instead of being obliged to put English words into Latin or Greek, by which process their knowledge of grammar at least would be tested and improved. The only part of the work which can be called at all hard work is the repetition, or to fall into the Eton dialect, the "saying" lessons (saying is a sort of adjective). The quantity of verse thus repeated is very large indeed. "A boy has to say eighty lines of Homer and sixty lines of some other author alternately five days in the week." To discharge this monotonous task honestly and fully would supply occupation for a great part of the day, but an arrangement has been made by which the exercise becomes not merely idle but injurious. The boys of a given class are called up, or rather come up to say their lesson in regular rotation, two or three standing before the master's desk at a time. They go straight on, and as soon as each has said his six or eight lines he is dismissed. Habit enables the next boy to see whereabouts he will be required to repeat, and as he stands up waiting for his turn he has the opportunity of learning his few lines perfectly, and getting through the lesson with no further difficulty. Apart from this, it is a fact, that when called upon to learn these enormous quantities of verse, boys get a knack of learning the whole lesson in such a way as to know it all for about ten minutes, after which they forget it as completely as if they had never seen it. The present reviewer (to borrow Mr. Carlyle's favourite phrase) well remembers many boys who could learn seventy or eighty lines of Homer in an incredibly short time, ten minutes or less, repeat them fluently, and then utterly forget all about them. In short, an Eton saying lesson, is a mere training in the art of shuffling. A quarter of the quantity thoroughly learnt, would be infinitely more effective. It appears that the simple device of dodging the boys backwards and forwards in different parts of the lesson is not practised and would not be tolerated amongst the Eton masters.
It may at first sight seem odd that in such a state of things as this the Eton masters should say to every proposal for a change "no time," and that their complaint should be that they are overwhelmed with work. Such, however, is in fact the case. Nothing, as every one knows, spends so much time as a wasteful, irregular, unpunctual arrangement of it, and nothing is so troublesome and laborious as the working of such a system. Amongst its other perfections Eton boasts of the tutorial system which we have already described to some extent in connection with Rugby. According to this system as practised at Eton the time of the masters is divided into two parts. For one part of his time he is the teacher of a division in the school. For the other he is the sole teacher of a kind of private school composed of about forty boys taken at random out of all parts of the school and described as his private pupils. To these boys he stands according to the pet Eton theory in loco parentis. Mr. Balston at one part of his career was the vicarious parent of no less than seventy-two promising sons. Being asked how he could discharge parental duties towards all of them, he replied that that was "rather a puzzling question." We should think it was. The Eton theory of paternity appears to be that the great use of a parent is to look over his son's exercises. An Eton master appears to pass his whole life in correcting exercises, hearing his pupils construe the lessons which they are afterwards to construe in school, and reading with them a certain quantity greater or less according to circumstances of extra classical work. This extra work, called private business, has no connection whatever with the work of the school, and depends entirely on the taste and sense of duty of the tutor. The great labour is the correction of exercises and the construing of lessons to be done in school. The correcting of the exercises no doubt has some advantage. The system of throwing the work on the tutor and making the boy show up in school both the corrected copy and his own fair copy does no doubt provide a security that this intolerably tedious work shall be efficiently done; the exercises, however, are often corrected in a stupid way. The boy writes his theme or his copy of verses, and the tutor points out to him that this or that expression is wrong or inelegant, and then sets it right, often re-writing a whole verse. This it is supposed forms the boy's taste. Trusting not only to theory but to memory we should say that the boy seldom followed the tutor, and that the tutor from sheer weariness constantly licked the exercises into shape either in the boy's absence or without any very clear explanation to him of the reason of the corrections. The effect of this would be that the work would be thrown away. It would probably be better if tbe positive grammatical errors in grammar and prosody were marked, and the boy were left to correct them himself. It he showed up both his tutor's copy and his own copy as corrected to the master of the form, the check of the double revision would be maintained, and the trouble of correction would be thrown from the tutor on to the boy, to whom it properly belongs. The object is not that a good exercise should be produced, but that the boy should be made aware of his errors and compelled to correct them. It must, however, be admitted that with all its shortcomings there is no part of the Eton work so creditable to those concerned as the labour bestowed on the correction of exercises.
The other part of the tutor's work appears to us to be simply labour thrown away in the most foolish manner. The reasons which Dr. Temple gave for the private tutor system at Rugby, are probably sound. No doubt it must be a great advantage to a boy to be looked after continuously throughout the whole of his career by some one master. No doubt, too, it must be highly advantageous to the masters to be acquainted with the work of the whole school; but why should the tutor construe over the school lessons with the boys before they go into school, and why should the private business done in the tutor's pupil-room have no relation to the school work? Surely if the school lessons are properly done, if the forms are of a manageable size, and if the boys are kept long enough in school to test the fact that every boy has learnt his lesson, it is better that he should learn and say it once for all and have done with it, than that he should go over it twice, each time in an inefficient stumbling way. As to the private business, if there were proper examinations at Eton, and if some one subject, not read in school, were included in the examination, the tutors might naturally read that one subject with their private pupils, and so both parties would get all the advantages which can really arise from the system of private tutors.
Like many other things the true nature of the construing in pupil-room is explained by its history. Under Dr. Keate, some fifty years ago, Eton was ten times worse than it is now. There were something like 200 boys in one class near the top of the school. "It was the commonest thing in the world," says Sir John Coleridge," for a boy to be a month or six weeks without being called up at all." Sir John also observes that at that time he was for five years in the fifth form, "and during the whole of that time, week after week, the main teaching of the school was Homer, Virgil, and Horace. We never ceased doing Homer, Virgil, and Horace." The Commissioners observe upon the private tutor system in obvious reference to this, that the system of private business:—
"Appears to have been introduced by degrees, in order to supplement the scanty and insufficient course of reading to which the boy was confined in school. The school taught him only Homeric Greek, his tutor only prepared him for his work in school, and neither his master nor his tutor gave him any religious instruction. If the parents desired that he should have any, or that he should learn the language of the Athenian dramatists, orators, philosophers, and historians, or to write Iambics and Greek prose, he had to obtain and pay for private tuition. As the supplement was evidently necessary, private tuition became a matter of course, and to afford it a regular part of the tutor's duty, the pupil, however, continuing to pay for it as an extra."All these things put together, certainly seem to prove beyond all doubt that, if boys go to school to learn, Eton is as bad a school as could be contrived for that purpose. It would appear, however, that boys are not sent to Eton to learn. Parents have a sort of insane notion that by sending a boy to Eton he is made into a gentleman and forms useful acquaintances. It is no doubt true that a good many of the Eton boys bring good manners with them from their respective homes, and do not forget them at Eton; it is undoubtedly true that there is at Eton little or none of that offensive priggishness which was often developed in them at Rugby and elsewhere, by the needless and injurious moral pressure put upon them by Dr. Arnold and his successors. The system of praepostors charged at seventeen or eighteen with the moral superintendence of boys not much their juniors, and puffed up with a sort of undefined impression that they were to revolutionise the whole world, and set to rights all those parts of it which were out of joint, is happily unknown at Eton. These results are unquestionably good, but they are in no way connected with the monstrous idleness and self-indulgence of the place. The manners of the Eton boys are for the most part of home growth, they are what they have learnt from their parents, and certainly all the evidence given before the Commissioners seems to show that the school in which they have learnt their manners must be excellent, but it is contrary to the very nature of things that there should be any real opposition between industry and good manners, or that boys should cease to be gentlemen by becoming well taught and studious.
The real truth of the matter we take to be that the parents are indifferent to the industry of theis sons. They are as much pleased as the boys themselves by the glitter and show of an Eton life. Certainly there are few more beautiful sights than the noble playing fields with their ancient elm trees and the splendid river, untouched in that part of its course by barges, the venerable school yard with its chapel and its cloisters, and the noble pile of Windsor Castle to give a finish to the whole. The Gray's Ode view of the subject comes naturally to every Eton man, the sternest critic must couple Floreat Etona with doceat Etona, but all these beauties raise mixed recollections in the minds of many an old Etonian—recollections not merely of early friendships and early amusements, but of the waste of precious time, the loss of priceless opportunities, and the acquisition of habits of inaccuracy, want of attention, unpunctuality, and all the thousand forms of idleness which were dear indeed at the price of a certain quantity of swimming, rowing, and cricket.
There is no sort of danger that athletic accomplishments will ever be underrated in this country, and no one can, for a moment, doubt their value; but at Eton the amount of play, and the fuss made about the play, is preposterous and childish. There is no reason to suppose that boys from Eton are stronger, healthier, or hardier, than boys from other schools. They are generally beaten at cricket by Harrow and often by Winchester, and even poor little Westminster has more than once contended successfully with them on the river. It would seem, however, that what work is done at Eton is done on the river, and no doubt it is better that an idle or stupid boy should work hard with his muscles than that he should not work at all. To be sure the proper application of this principle might be to induce his parents to bring him up as a groom or a gamekeeper, but it is no doubt better that he should play at cricket than that he should loiter about and get into mischief. What, however, is to be thought of a system which allows such stress to be laid on a mere recreation that the Commissioners should have to say:—
"The art of cricket playing has now reached a pitch of perfection which demands of those who are ambitious of success in it, professional instruction and long and constant practice. Five hours a day, at least in half-holidays (or thrice a week), and two hours at least in whole school days are considered by the boys necessary, in order to get into the Eleven."The boys themselves attach hardly any importance to intellectual excellence. "The captain of the boats is the greatest man in the school, and next to him ranks the captain of the Eleven." Surely there is something very contemptible in all this. When all the Tom Brown's in the country have said their say upon the subject, and when every protest against Manicheeism in any of its disguises has been allowed as much weight as can possibly attach to it, it must after all, be admitted that the mind is higher than the body, and that though boys ought not be mere book-worms, they do go to school to work, and not to play. Whatever novels may say to the contrary the mere athletic training produces a feeble, gregarious, helpless, cast of character, dependent for such vigour as it has upon accidental circumstances, and unfit for the real work of life.
It is natural to ask in conclusion what the public can do to remedy such a state of things as exists at Eton, and to promote such a state of things as exists at Rugby, with such alterations as may appear to be advisable? It can no doubt do several things, but there is one great and crying evil which being once well remedied, most other needful reforms might be expected. It can reform the governing bodies of the schools, and take some kind of steps towards inspecting them, or at any rate towards gently compelling them, as Oxford and Cambridge were gently compelled, to reform them selves. The governing body at Rugby is a set of trustees who are gentlemen of fortune and position in Warwickshire and the neighbourhood. Partly by Act of Parliament, partly by decrees of the Court of Chancery, they have full power to legislate for the school as may appear to them desirable, and they have done so from time to time in a manner equally effective and liberal minded. Above all they have appointed three or four excellent masters—Dr. Arnold, Dr. Tait, Dr. Goulburn, and Dr. Temple—have been guided by their judgment, and have vigorously supported their measures.
Eton, on the other hand, governs itself, and that in the clumsiest and most blundering way that can be conceived. It is a corporation consisting of a provost and several fellows, who appoint and control the head-master, and virtually govern the whole place. The fellowships have become retiring pensions for masters, and the provost (as to the right of whose appointment there are curious legal questions), must be or must have been, a Fellow of Eton or of King's, must have been born in England, and must be a Bachelor of Divinity or a Doctor in Law or Master of Arts, in holy orders, and thirty years of age. So narrow is the field of choice left by these conditions, that on one recent occasion there were only eight persons who were legally eligible. Practically, the provost has usually been either an ex-head-master, or at any rate, a man even more closely connected with Eton than the other fellows. The head-master cannot make the least alteration in the school without his permission.
The result of this is, that Eton is probably less capable of reform than any other corporation in England. A boy goes there, say at ten or twelve; at eighteen he gets a scholarship at King's, which is Eton over again; he comes back as an assistant-master at twenty-three or twenty-four, he becomes head master, say at forty-five; at sixty he is elected provost, and it is then supposed that he will reform the college, and understands its faults. This is no imaginary case. Provost Groodall, it used to be said, was at Eton man and boy for more than seventy years. Mr. Balston has gone through a good part of the cycle. He was a very distinguished boy at Eton; he went to King's; he was an assistant master for twenty years; he was then a fellow for a short interval, and now as head-master he thinks the whole system perfect. If any one will read his evidence, that of Dr. Temple, and that of Mr. Butler, the headmaster of Harrow, they will be able without an effort to understand why Eton is what it is. There can be no hope of a thorough reform, till an end is put to this and some other anomalies of the same sort. A good head-master, with a vigorous governing body, may bring any school up to the highest level which the temper of the age is fit for, and experience will point out the proper way of improving it from time to time, but without some alteration in this respect, these noble foundations run a great risk of teaching nothing but idleness, prejudice, and self-indulgence.
National Review, November 1864.