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room; whe the old dame, with her black silk hood and great shoe-buckles, sat in state in a large arm-chair, with the birch rod uplifted in her hand, ready to switch the ears or the hands of the little frightened culprit, who, with all his stammering and fidgeting, and swallowing, as if to make way for a new idea, could not recollect the difference between u and n, nor whether d had its globular termination on the right hand or the left.
But if such were the difficulties of the alphabet, what was the consternation of him, who, having risen from his seat with a mouthful of grammar, which he trusted to discharge word for word, as a string of beads would be dropped from the handwhat was his consternation to find the string unexpectedly broken, and verbs, nouns, and adjectives -nay, all the parts of speech-mixing themselves together in one senseless jargon, from which he vainly attempted to select distinct portions by their mere sound: for, as to meaning, it was all one to him whereabouts in the sentence any particular word might stand.
And not to the luckless youth alone, who muttered these disjointed sounds, was the terror of that ancient dame rendered doubly appalling by her black hood, her uplifted rod, her pointing finger, and her huge buckled-shoes: to him who followed in the rear, and whose trial was yet to come, the panic communicated itself, as switch after switch denoted that it was before no lenient tribunal he must next appear. In vain he took breath and held up his book, and began the first sentence of his lesson again and again; his eyes would wander to the countenance of that old dame, to see if
there was no relenting-no mild look about her eyes-no capability of a smile about the corners, of her mouth.
In vain that poor old dame had striven with naughty boys and naughty girls for the last fifteen years of her life, when her limbs were aching with rheumatism; her sight was dim, and her hearing so defective that she could not tell whether they said right or wrong; only from the general tendency of children to evil rather than good, she took the latter for granted. How could the old dame be otherwise than cross? Every day her labors were to be begun afresh; for those who had mastered the alphabet as far as ƒ in the evening, could get no further than 6 when school-time came again. And then there were all the little infants sent to school to be out of the way, and the older ones would not take care of them, so they fell on the brick floor, and then cried the rest of the time: or went home with bruised foreheads, and then were taken away-so that the school lost credit, and the dame her means of support.
Nor did the poor old dame herself enjoy more than a temporary influence, restricted to the duration of school-hours. No love and little respect mingled with the obedience reluctantly yielded to her authority. When dislodged from her chair of office, her venerable figure was frequently an object of ridicule and mockery-while the moment her face was turned away, the discipline of her school gave place to every variety of mischief, and every degree of idleness.
Nor were the person and character of the venerable instructress exempt from insult in her less
honorable avocations. When her cautious steps trod the pavement of the village, a presumptuous hand would sometimes attach a fanciful device to her sober and time-worn cloak, or a rude jostle would send her tottering to the edge of the bank, down which it was her greatest dread to fall.
Such was the life of the village schoolmistress nor could all her assumption of dignity ameliorate its trials. Such also was the manner in which the seeds of education were sown in the olden time. Who can compare this method with our infant schools, as they now exist, and not feel that a work of improvement has commenced, the beneficial consequences of which will be felt by all ranks and conditions of society-most probably as long as the world lasts ?
The first time I heard an infant school described, I felt great difficulty in giving credit to the statements that were made of the order, quiet, and enjoyment which prevailed among the children. I thought the narrator gave her own coloring to the scene, and secretly entertained the belief that she had seen it under unusually favorable circumstances; and such was my idea of the noise and tumult necessarily attendant upon the meeting together of so many "naughty children," that I felt no doubt but that if I could watch them through the day, I should occasionally hear all their voices as much united in the expressien of anger and distress, as they were at other times in harmony and joy.
It happened, a short time after my attention had been called to this subject, that I was visiting in a situation where I could distinctly hear every
day the sounds which issued from an infant school, conducted on the modern system, and I was then struck with the fact that they were never mingled with discord or distress. They were, however, so strange and new to my ears, that I was tempted to go and see for myself the working of this new order of things, which I still believed to have been over-estimated by the friend who had first described it to me.
I entered a long low chamber, which certainly presented nothing particularly attractive in its general appearance; and here were met together between twenty and thirty little children, none of them exceeding six years old, and by far the greater number so young as apparently to require the attentions of a nurse, rather than a schoolmistress. In the midst of this group was a lady— for she was nothing less, and had been the wife of a clergyman-whose combined dignity and sweetness of manner seemed at once to command respect and win affection. She was in the prime of life, her energies unimpaired, and her whole attention appeared to be absorbed in a noble endeavor to carry out to perfection that new system of education, by which enjoyment is blended with instruction. Every eye in the little circle was fixed upon her face; for her looks, her voice, her movements directed the whole. In the same instant every hand was raised, and fifty little rosy palms were clapped at the same moment, beating time to the sweetest of all music-the sound of infant voices singing their "Maker's praise."
I should have said, before I beheld this scene, that it was one of which little children would soon
become weary; yet such was the variety introduced, that the attention even of mere infants was kept always alive, while the desire of imitating those who were a little more advanced in years and experience, kept all their awakening energies just sufficiently on the stretch.
But the greatest charm of the whole was, that there was no jarring-no discord—no envious rivalry; all were intent upon doing well, upon doing their very best, and upon doing it at the same time; so that nothing was distinguishable but the unanimous effort of the whole; and that was so sweet and harmonious, so full of joy to each, and of cordial feeling to all, that instead of doubting any longer, I felt an involuntary impulse to offer up my thanks along with this little company to the Father of Mercies, that he was thus teaching them, along with the first lessons of instruction, "how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in love and unity."
May we not learn, then, from these schools, how much may be done by inspiring love, rather than fear; by awakening and employing the mind, rather than by confusing its thoughts and stupifying its energies; by making the season of youth one of natural and lawful enjoyment, rather than one of heartless and unwilling obedience? Above all, may we not learn how much depends upon united effort-upon not thwarting each other's endeavors to do well, but in joining together in heart, and hand, and voice, to do the will of Him who called little children to his arms, and said, that of "such is the kingdom of heaven."