"It's a capital idea! the thing ought to be commemorated. At any rate, we can give a little dinner in honour of it. Whom shall we have?"
"Dr and Mrs. Oldcastle, and Harry's form-master, young Mr. Hilyard, and his wife, will represent schoolwork; we shall stand for parents in general; and, with Dr and Mrs. Brenton for our medical advisers, and the Dean and Mrs. Priestly to witness for things spiritual, we shall be quite a 'representative gathering.' Will my list do?"
"Famously! It couldn't be better. We all know the subject and each other, and I shouldn't wonder if we have some good things said."
Mr. Clough was a City merchant, as had been his fathers before him for four or five generations; he was reputed wealthy, and was a rich man, but one who held his wealth as a public trust, reserving for personal uses only what should keep his family in refined and comfortable living. Not that there was much virtue in this, for he, and others like him, held in aversion luxurious living, and whatever savoured of the "barbarous opulence" of earlier days. Dr Oldcastle was the head-master of an old-established foundation school; for the remaining guests, they have been sufficiently introduced by Mrs. Clough.
During the dinner there was the usual gay talk, and some light handling of graver subjects, until the ladies retired, with a view to the discussion of certain practical matters among themselves. Then––
"I wonder, gentlemen, has it occurred to you why my wife and I have been so pertinacious in trying to get you here to-night?"
Every one's countenance showed that he was struck by an interesting, if vague, recollection.
"A little circumstance connected with this room, and a certain date that I fear I may have mentioned more than once or twice?"
"Oh, to be sure," said the Dean; "haven't I said a dozen times to my wife, 'There's but one thing that Clough plumes himself on––that the "Fathers' and Mothers' Club" was born in his dining-room!' "
"But why to-night more than any other night?"
"Why, to-night is the hundredth anniversary of that great event!" A good-humoured smile passed round. "Yes, gentlemen, I know I'm house-proud, and give you leave to laugh. But would not you cherish an old-fashioned house in a by-street, when it's the one thing that links you to history?"
"But, my dear fellow, why in the world should this Club with the stuttering initials (how I hate initials!) be glorified? It does not get in my way, as a headmaster, it's true; but, mind you, a man can't play up to his Busby in the face of it! There was a man for his calling! How he'd walk over your 'F. M. C.'s.' Fumble! aye, that's the word. I knew 'F. M. C.' reminded me of something." "I'm slow to see how our Club links us with history, certainly," murmured Dr Brenton reflectively.
"Why, in this way: if the Club did not initiate, it certainly marked a stage in the progress of the great educational revolution in which we have been moving for the last hundred years. Wait for two or three centuries, and you will find this revolution of ours written down as the epoch of the 'Children's Magna Charta.' "
"Sorry to disoblige you, but I'm afraid none of us sees his way to more than a century of waiting, though it be to verify the statements of his best friend. But go on, old fellow, I'm with you! Make the 'revolution' plain sailing for us."
"Thanks, Hilyard; your sanction emboldens me. But which am I to 'go on' with, the word or the thing?"
"A distinction with a difference. If I say 'the thing,' off we go to the Dark Ages themselves; and shall come out to find the ladies cloaked and hooded in the hall!"
"A thing endurable to us elder Benedicts."
"Now, Doctor! As if you weren't tied to Mrs. Oldcastle's apron-string every minute you're not in school. Fanny and I follow you for encouragement when we feel our bond growing slack."
"To order, gentlemen, to order! or we shall get neither word nor thing. We shall all want to put in a word anent 'my wife and I.' "
"Brenton's right. Seer, take up thy parable, and go ahead!"
"Who would contemn a behest of the Church?" (with a bow which threatened a candle-shade, deftly saved by Hilyard). "I go ahead; I'm not to talk about the thing, but the name. Why I call this, which has been working itself out in the last hundred years or more, an educational revolution. In the first place, what was called 'Education' a century since and what we call Education are essentially different things."
"Come, come! Isn't that rather strong? We go in for the classics and mathematics; and so did the schools of a hundred, or, for the matter of that, five hundred years ago. It is true we have to work much more with modern languages, natural science, and other subjects of which we can give but a smattering, to the confusion alike of boys and masters. Give me a classical education, or, in default, a mathematical; it's training! And, for my part, I vote for the pre-Revolutionists, if that's what you choose to call them";––said Dr Oldcastle, with a subdued snort, which epitomised much that was not civil to the reform party.
"How much clearing of the decks must take place for even a friendly discussion! Tell us, gentlemen both, what you mean by education?"
"Mean by education, Doctor? I should not have thought our united wisdoms need be called on to answer that! A boy is educated when he knows what every gentleman should know, and when he is trained to take his place in the world."
"Dr Oldcastle's definition suits me as well as another. Putting aside the polite acquirements, the question turns on the training––how much it includes, and how it is to be given."
"There you have it, Clough," put in Dr Brenton; "and my contention is, that you owe the incalulable advance in character which has taken place in the period we are considering entirely to us, doctors. Wasn't it we who found out for you that you were all blundering in the dark; that you hadn't even set your feet on the scientific basis of education; that all your doings were tentative? About a hundred years ago, men spent a third of a lifetime on mathematics. Cambridge made men Senior Wranglers in those days, and, perhaps, the distinction was worth the work. But the world said, in that weighty way in which the world likes to talk: 'Mathematics afford a mental discipline, a fortifying of character, which no other study gives.' Now I'm not denying the worth of mathematics as a factor in education; but look at your mathematician; do you find him more to the fore, more his own master, than other men? Often enough, he is irritable, obstinate, all the more wrong headed the more he's in the right. But now we (observe the we––royalty itself couldn't make more of it) find you fumbling about blindly, snatching up now this tool, now that, natural science, languages, or what not, in order to work upon material you knew nothing about, was it mind, or morals, or what? To effect issues you had not determined on––intellectual power? Force of character? In the slough we found you––parent, schoolmaster, parson––all whose business is, more or less, the bringing up of the young; and what have we done for you? Why, we've discovered to you the nature of the material you have to work upon, the laws according to which it must be wrought. We have even put it into your hands as clay in the hands of a potter, and we've shown you what is the one possible achievement before you; that is, the elevation of character. Education which fails to effect this, effects nothing. There, that's what we've done. Every man to his trade, say I; and there's nothing like leather!"
"Well, but, but,––all this is very fine talk; but what demonstration can you give? And where in the world have I been while all this was going on? Pshaw! You delude yourselves, my dear friends. This airy talk makes flighty brains; but do you suppose I've been a schoolmaster these forty years while all this has been taking place, and yet know nothing of it?"
"That comes of fumbling over our 'F. M. C.', instead of holding us up with both hands. But, honour bright, Dr Oldcastle, do you see in these days any change in the manner of boy that comes to your hands fresh from his home?"
"Yes, yes! a thousand times, yes!"
"If Mr. Hilyard's courtesy had permitted me to answer for myself, I, also, should have said 'yes.' I see a most remarkable change, upon which society is to be congratulated. But what would you have? Civilisation and education must of necessity produce results, appreciable even within a single lifetime."
"Don't you think, Doctor, you might have made a trilogy of it, and promoted Christianity?" interposed the ever suave and gentle tones of the Dean. "I, myself, feel, with Dr Brenton, 'every man for his master,' and would fain lay every advance at the feet of mine."
"I must beg the Dean to look over a little assumed pugnacity. That we all agree with him, he may rest assured; and for this reason; every other avenue towards perfection leads you, after weeks or months or years of delightful going, to a blank wall. You see nothing beyond; all that remains is to retrace your steps, and retrogression is always bitter. You try through Christ, and find yourself in the way of endless progress cheered by perennial hope. But the talk is growing serious. We of the Club take to ourselves some of the credit of the advances Dr Oldcastle perceives, and as testimony from an alien is very valuable, perhaps he would not mind telling us in detail what differences he discerns between the young boys of to-day and their kind of forty years ago?"
"Let me consider a moment; your question is not easy to answer in a breath . . . Well, in the first place, they are more apt to learn: I conceive that there has been an extraordinary advance in intelligence during the last half-century. The work we would grind over for hours in my day, these youngsters have at their finger-ends in half an hour, and are on the alert for more. I do believe they have a real appetite for knowledge––a weakness of which not more than one or two in a hundred were guilty when I was a boy."
"Will you let me, as a parent, give you our explanation of these facts? For, with deference to Dr Brenton, who justly claims so much for his craft, I think we parents deserve a pat, too. You may bring a horse to the well, but you can't make him drink. The advance, I think, is not in intelligence, but in power of attention. This, the 'Fathers' and Mothers' Club' and its agencies recognise as the practical power of man; that which makes all the difference between the able and successful man and the poor lag-last. Attention is the power and habit of concentrating every faculty on the thing in hand. Now this habit of attention, parents, mothers especially, are taught to encourage and cultivate in their children from early infancy. What you regard with full attention, if only for a minute, you know, and remember always. Think of the few scenes and conversations we, each, have so vividly fixed that we cannot possibly forget them. Why? Because at the moment our attention was powerfully excited. You reap some benefit from this early training directly the boy goes to school. The psychologists––not your craft, this time, Doctor––tell us that enormous curiosity, a ravenous appetite for knowledge, is as natural to children as bread-and-milk hunger. Put the two together; the boy has an eager desire to know––has the power of fixing his whole mind on the new thoughts set before him, and it's as easy as A B C; of course he learns with magical quickness. The field has been ploughed by the parents, and you have only to sow your seed."
"H'm! it sounds rational; I must think it over. Anyway, the results are pleasant enough. Four hours a day instead of six or seven––and much more work done, mind you––is good for both masters and boys. Then, most of them have resources and are on nobody's hands. You'd be astonished to hear how much these fellows know, and each has his speciality. One little chap has butterflies, for instance. Ah, that reminds me! Don't tell, or I might be invited to resign; but I don't to this day know the difference between a moth and a butterfly. It's the sort of thing one ought to know, so I set up a classification of my own, no doubt correct, because it was mine! Well, this befell me. 'What have you there?' I asked a little chap, who had evidently netted a prize. 'A moth, sir, the––,' scientific name, pat. 'A moth, boy! That beautiful creature is no moth. Moths live in houses.' You should have seen the fellow suppress his grin! I couldn't ask, so don't know now, but make a point of not meeting that little chap's eye. A friend of mine, a Fellow of his College, was worse. 'I say, Oldcastle, the poets make a mighty pother about the song of the lark. Now, do tell me––do you know it when you hear it ?' But as for the boys that enter now, there's not the natural object that they don't both recognise and know all about. Their collections are of scientific worth––at least, so that fellow Hilyard thinks, so we are going in for a museum of local natural history!"
"Why, Dr Oldcastle, you're like the man in the play, who talked prose all his life, and at last found it out! You're our warmest friend, though you decline the connection. This, again, is the work of mothers working out our scheme of thought. We make a great point of giving play to the intelligent curiosity of the children about all that lives and grows within their ken. For instance, I should think most of 'our' mothers would feel disgraced if her child of six were not able to recognise any ordinary British tree from a twig with leaf-buds only. It's Nature's lore, and the children take to it like ducks to the water; the first six or seven years of their lives are spent out of doors––in possible weather––learning this sort of thing, instead of pottering over picture-books and A B C. But do fill the witness-box a minute longer. All this is delightful; an outsider who speaks with authority is worth a score of partisans."
"I bow my thanks, Clough, for the handsome things you are good enough to say. Of course my impartial witness would be quite as valuable if it told on the other side. Why, Hilyard, you're nowhere! It is I am the man of the day. But no; he's the go-ahead fellow, and I'm the drag; yet a drag has its uses." "Granted, if you go down hill. But out of thine own mouth art thou convicted, most learned Master! What hast thou talked all this night but progress? But one thing more: tell us, do you find these Admirable Crichtons of yours the least in the world priggish? Or are they namby-pamby youths, who do as they're bid, and haven't much taste for unlawful adventure?"
"Taste for adventure! Why, little fellows of nine come, able to swim, row, ride, do everything man or boy needs do, and how are fellows of that sort to be kept out of adventures? But they do as they're bid, I grant you, and the way they do it shows fifty times the spirit of the fellows who shirked. Mind, I'm speaking of the boys who have been brought up at home, not of those who have 'growed.' But don't run away with the notion that the best of them are perfect; we must be at it all the time, or the ground gained is gone from under our feet."
"Look, look! do look at Brenton: something will happen if he doesn't get an innings."
"Gentlemen, you must, you really must, hear me on this matter! You must let me show Dr. Oldcastle the 'reason why' of what he observes."
"Hear, hear! Let's have it, Doctor. Don't spare a word."
"Well, to begin at the beginning (no! not with Adam, nor even with the Dark Ages); some five-and-twenty years or so before Clough's EVENT, men of science began to grope for a clue to the understanding of this queer riddle of human nature. That action (including speech) depends on thought, and that action––repeated action––forms character, had long ago been got at by inductive processes. Now, those meddling scientific fellows were not content with, It is, because it is! They must needs go poking round with their everlasting––'Why?' This particular 'Why' proved a most hard nut to crack; indeed, it is only within living memory that their guesses at truth have become entirely demonstrable; but, as early as I said, they had thus much ground under their feet––analogy and probability were altogether on their side, and it was impossible to prove, or even to show a fair case for, the contrary view. These scientists perceived that they were undermining the methods, the aims, the very idea of education as popularly held. They indicated new lines, suggested new principles. But their discoveries were to be like that corn of wheat––first they must fall into the ground and die. Years passed before educationalists woke up to what had been done. At last it dawned upon them that it was now possible to formulate a science of education; to propose laws which should work out definite ends with proximate, if not mathematical, certainty. The days of casual bringing-up were numbered. A basis, and that a physical basis, was found. The principle which underlies the possibility of all education was discovered to them, as it is to us to-day. They were taught that the human frame, brain as well as muscle, grows to the uses it is earliest put to. In a hundred years, we have advanced no further in principle, but we have applied the principle in many directions. It is, indeed, hardly possible to get beyond the ground covered by this so simple-sounding axiom: that is, it is hardly within our power to overstate the possibilities of education. Anything may be made of a child by those who first get him into their bands. No doubt, propagandism becomes the immediate duty of any who have perceived a saving principle for the race. And efforts were made in many directions to bring before parents of all classes the notion that the formation of habits is among the chief aims of education. Our host's EVENT is one of these efforts, and the Parents' Club spread like wildfire; every one was ready for it, because people were beginning to feel the wretched uncertainty of the casual method. How is it, they asked, that, bring up two boys in the same way, and one turns out a villain, the other, a credit to his family? Now, Education as we understand it, deals entirely with individuals; not with children, but with the child; the faulty habit is supplanted, observe the word, the desirable habit produced, within a definite period, say one month or six, and then the parents' easy work is to keep the child upon the lines of habit thus produced."
"Now, stop a minute, Doctor, stop a minute! I'm afraid I'm about to lose my easily won laurels. You, who are a classical scholar, must know how familiar to the mind both of Roman and Greek was this doctrine of habit. Again, a poet of our own, an eighteenth-century man––wasn't it Dryden?––expresses capitally the time-out-of-mind English feeling on this subject––
"'Children, like tender osiers, take the bow,
And, as they first are fashion'd, always grow;
For what we learn in youth, to that alone
In age we are by second nature prone.'"
"Most happy; but don't you see, Dr Oldcastle, I began by admitting that people have always had a notion that they must bring up their children in good habits, and suppress faulty ones. But now, they have something more than a notion; they have scientific certainty. And, instead of dawdling through the whole period of childhood with spasmodic efforts to get a boy to tie his shoe-strings fast, they take it in hand once and for all, until the habit is ingrained in the stuff of the child's character. Now, don't you see that this is a very different thing from the desultory way in which a child was allowed to try off and on for a habit all his days, and never got it?"
"I admit there's a difference; it tallies, too, with what I notice in the young boys who enter with us. You mean that their mothers have definitely set themselves for one month or six, say, to form a habit––now obedience, now truthfulness, now attention, and so on––and that is why the boys come to me with character, not mere disposition?"
"Yes, that's what I mean; and it's on these lines we have been advancing for a whole century. In another direction, too, education has been going forward; but, here, we have only analogy to guide us, not yet certainty. It cannot be predicted as yet, whether we are simple or complex beings, whether in each of us is bound up one life or several. It is not impossible, for instance, that, just as our physical life is sustained because multitudinous organisms come to life, feed, grow, multiply, and die, perpetually in our substance, so, perhaps, what we may call our immaterial life is sustained by multitudinous lives such as our philosophy has never dreamed of. An idea, for instance, what is it? We don't know yet; but this we know, that every idea we get is quick within us as a living thing, that it feeds, grows, multiplies, and then, behold it is no more! There are bodies natural and there are bodies spiritual. Perhaps this sort of thing is too immature to be pressed into service; but of other parts of us to which names and ideas of something like personality are attached––conscience, will, our spiritual being––this it is quite safe to assert: they thrive upon their appropriate meat and work, they perish of inanition and idleness. This, too, we take into our scheme of education, and with great results."
The Dean took the word:––
"I, for one, must heartily thank Dr Brenton for his most suggestive lecture. No, don't look 'castigated,' Doctor; it is a lecture for weight and worth, but of commendable brevity. Speaking for the 'cloth,' I should like to say how much we owe to this educational revolution. A century ago, our Church was supposed to show some signs of decadence; to-day she is quick to her remotest extremities. And why? simply because she has gone with the times in following up the advances of educational thought. She, with the rest of you, perceives that the world has ever one great thing to do––to bring up the young in advance of the generation before them; that the sole valuable inheritance the present has to leave behind is––exalted national character. Wherefore, she has laboured assiduously on the two lines Dr Brenton emphasises to-night––'that Habit is ten natures'; and, that the spiritual life must flourish or decay as it is duly nourished and exercised, or allowed to lie idle and unfed. Therefore is every clergyman instructed, above all, to minister to the young of his parish––of all classes. The growing soul cannot thrive upon husks––therefore must the truth be divested of the husks of the past, and clothed upon with the living thought of the present. The young soul must be taught its work, the spiritual exercises of prayer and praise, the bodily exercise of service; and as no man can teach what he does not know, the minister to the young must be qualified and ever active in these. Seeing these and kindred truths, our clergy are raising up about them a body of ardent young spirits to whom self-devotion is a law; labour in spiritual uplands a necessity. And for much of this progress, I say, we are indebted to the labours of the Educationists, whom we therefore gladly hold up with both hands."
"This is very gratifying hearing; we have all along been very sensible of the cordiality and helpfulness of the clergy, who so commonly throw in their lot with us. But that we should be doing them some service all the time––this is news indeed. May I imitate Mr. Dean, and say a word professionally? We doctors have reaped where we sowed––and abundantly. In the old days, families had each 'their doctor,' who was called in now and then to do battle with disease which had already made head way. But now, people are beginning to see that low vitality, poor physique, and even organic disease––hereditary or other––are very commonly the results of faulty education, or bringing up, if that is the better way of putting it. What is the consequence? Why, the doctor is retained, like husband or wife, for sickness and health; he is the medical adviser by the year, or usually by the lifetime. He thrives, not on sickness, but upon health. Drops in on his clients unawares, finds one girl doubled up over a book, another standing on one foot, notes the hectic flush and bright eye of this child, the tendency to drowsiness in that–– the flabby arms and quick intelligence of the little town-bred family, the stolid dulness of the farmer's boy––for rich and poor come in course to him. He does not wait for disease to be set up, but averts the tendency; and though he has found no elixir of life, nor means of averting death––this, he may almost venture to promise his clients, that so long as they live, they shall live with eye not waxed dim, nor natural force abated. And––all this, because he knows that the body, too, must have its education, its careful regulation, and that bone and muscle and vital organs alike grow to the habits you set up in them."
Mr. Hilyard had been using his pencil for the last few minutes, and was evidently preparing to show on what lines the schools, too, had been advancing during this age of many revolutions, when––"It's eleven o'clock, and the ladies!" brought the discussion to an end.