steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 14: Drawing, French and Mathematics

Let us now go in thought to the Drawing School. Mr Back was the Master there. He taught drawing well, but some of his scholars did not make fair progress in return for his pains. When he looked at a performance of any one of these, he lamented in a loud weeping tone as he cuffed them vigorously, "When will you learn, you fool? Look at the model, you fool." ...

I enjoyed Mr Back's instruction; it has been most useful to me ever since I was with him. One day when with others I was in the Latin School in Mr White's study, Mr Back came to see him. After prefatory cordial greetings, Mr Back said, "The object of my visit is to ask you to kindly give a name, perhaps a Latin name, to a small stick used to measure a drawing-model." Mr White, looking at it, replied, "It already has a name, it is a skewer." The drawing master admitted, "It certainly does look like a skewer, although it is not used as one." "But surely," replied the Latin master, "we cannot correctly say that a skewer is like a skewer." Mr Back was too polite to contend the point, and as he had come to Mr White for a name, he thanked him, and said that he would call the measuring stick by the name skewer. Henceforth in the Drawing School one heard these weeping lamentations over cuffed dull scholars, "Put the skewer to the model, you fool." "That's not the way to hold your skewer." "When will you learn how to use your skewer?"

The only modern foreign language taught at Christ's Hospital was French. For the study of this there was a French School, which had a Head Master, Mr Dolittle, and second master, Mr Geney, both Frenchmen. The latter was my instructor. ... He appeared to know English very imperfectly, and not to understand English boys, and he spoke and gesticulated like a foreigner. How it amused the class to watch his movements as he giggled over a book which he read to himself! They looked up with an enquiring smile. He told them that he was enjoying a play by Moliere, "The Miser", and he read aloud the passage that made him laugh where the principal character, the Miser, gets muddled in his repetition of a proverb, and renders it, "One must live to eat, and not eat to live." Then Mr Geney giggled again. The boys could not help laughing at the Master, and some of them, I am sorry to say, were so impolite as to imitate his giggles. But strange as it may seem their hilarity was quite misunderstood by the Master. He thought they were laughing at the joke, and so, in sympathy, he giggled still more. Soon the school was in a state of uproarious laugher, and Mr Geney ceased to be amused, and got waxy instead.

In the Mathematical School Dr Webster was the Head Master. I was not taught by him, but by Mr Gurney. Mr Gurney was a pious and just man. I much enjoyed his instruction in Euclid and Algebra, and got safely over Pons Asinorum. ... One day when we were learning algebra a member of the class had a boldness to say to him, "Please, Sir, your hair wants brushing." To our surprise Mr Gurney said nothing, but immediately walked out of the School, and after a while, returned with the fault rectified. I admired him for this way of responding to the lad. ... I have nothing more to say about this excellent man, excepting that in the holidays I once saw him at the seaside minding his children's clothes while they were bathing. He held ropes which were attached to their arms to keep them from going out of their depth. As it happened, they were afraid to venture further than about the depth of their ankles into the water, but it was prudent of him to make sure of their safety.
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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