London, June 17th, 1782.
English Customs and Education.
A few words more respecting pedantry. I have seen the regulation of one seminary of learning, here called an academy. Of these places of education, there is a prodigious number in London, though, notwithstanding their pompous names, they are in reality nothing more than small schools set up by private persons, for children and young people.
One of the Englishmen who were my travelling companions, made me acquainted with a Dr. G-- who lives near P--, and keeps an academy for the education of twelve young people, which number is here, as well as at our Mr. Kumpe's, never exceeded, and the same plan has been adopted and followed by many others, both here and elsewhere.
At the entrance I perceived over the door of the house a large board, and written on it, Dr. G--'s Academy. Dr. G-- received me with great courtesy as a foreigner, and shewed me his school-room, which was furnished just in the same manner as the classes in our public schools are, with benches and a professor's chair or pulpit.
The usher at Dr. G--'s is a young clergyman, who, seated also in a chair or desk, instructs the boys in the Greek and Latin grammars.
Such an under-teacher is called an usher, and by what I can learn, is commonly a tormented being, exactly answering the exquisite description given of him in the "Vicar of Wakefield." We went in during the hours of attendance, and he was just hearing the boys decline their Latin, which he did in the old jog-trot way; and I own it had an odd sound to my ears, when instead of pronouncing, for example viri veeree I heard them say viri, of the man, exactly according to the English pronunciation, and viro, to the man. The case was just the same afterwards with the Greek.
Mr. G-- invited us to dinner, when I became acquainted with his wife, a very genteel young woman, whose behaviour to the children was such that she might be said to contribute more to their education than any one else. The children drank nothing but water. For every boarder Dr. G-- receives yearly no more than thirty pounds sterling, which however, he complained of as being too little. From forty to fifty pounds is the most that is generally paid in these academies.
I told him of our improvements in the manner of education, and also spoke to him of the apparent great worth of character of his usher. He listened very attentively, but seemed to have thought little himself on this subject. Before and after dinner the Lord's Prayer was repeated in French, which is done in several places, as if they were eager not to waste without some improvement, even this opportunity also, to practise the French, and thus at once accomplish two points. I afterwards told him my opinion of this species of prayer, which however, he did not take amiss.
After dinner the boys had leave to play in a very small yard, which in most schools or academies, in the city of London, is the ne plus ultra of their playground in their hours of recreation. But Mr. G-- has another garden at the end of the town, where he sometimes takes them to walk.
After dinner Mr. G-- himself instructed the children in writing, arithmetic, and French, all which seemed to be well taught here, especially writing, in which the young people in England far surpass, I believe, all others. This may perhaps be owing to their having occasion to learn only one sort of letters. As the midsummer holidays were now approaching (at which time the children in all the academies go home for four weeks), everyone was obliged with the utmost care to copy a written model, in order to show it to their parents, because this article is most particularly examined, as everybody can tell what is or is not good writing. The boys knew all the rules of syntax by heart.
All these academies are in general called boarding-schools. Some few retain the old name of schools only, though it is possible that in real merit they may excel the so much-boasted of academies.
It is in general the clergy, who have small incomes, who set up these schools both in town and country, and grown up people who are foreigners, are also admitted here to learn the English language. Mr. G-- charged for board, lodging, and instruction in the English, two guineas a-week. He however, who is desirous of perfecting himself in the English, will do better to go some distance into the country, and board himself with any clergyman who takes scholars, where he will hear nothing but English spoken, and may at every opportunity be taught both by young and old.
There are in England, besides the two universities, but few great schools or colleges. In London, there are only St. Paul's and Westminster schools; the rest are almost all private institutions, in which there reigns a kind of family education, which is certainly the most natural, if properly conducted. Some few grammar schools, or Latin schools, are notwithstanding here and there to be met with, where the master receives a fixed salary, besides the ordinary profits of the school paid by the scholars.
You see in the streets of London, great and little boys running about in long blue coats, which, like robes, reach quite down to the feet, and little white bands, such as the clergy wear. These belong to a charitable institution, or school, which hears the name of the Blue Coat School.
Windsor, 23rd June.
Just before I got to Windsor I passed Eton College, one of the first public schools in England, and perhaps in the world. I have before observed that there are in England fewer of these great schools than one might expect. It lay on my left; and on the right, directly opposite to it, was an inn, into which I went.
I suppose it was during the hour of recreation, or in playtime, when I got to Eton, for I saw the boys in the yard before the college, which was enclosed by a low wall, in great numbers, walking and running up and down.
Their dress struck me particularly. From the biggest to the least, they all wore black cloaks, or gowns, over coloured clothes, through which there was an aperture for their arms. They also wore besides a square hat or cap, that seemed to be covered with velvet, such as our clergymen in many places wear.
They were differently employed--some talking together, some playing, and some had their books in their hands, and were reading; but I was soon obliged to get out of their sight, they stared at me so as I came along, all over dust, with my stick in my hand.