It is not to be denied that the life of the schoolmaster is always exacting, usually tedious, and occasionally irritating. It is not to be denied that long-enduring patience, untiring perseverance, and philosophical resignation are only the first three of the many qualities essential to success. But still the drudgery of teaching has its compensations. And they are the more acceptable because of their rare charm. There, in the schoolmaster's keeping, is the youthful mind. What may he not do with it? What forgetfulness of the dreary round of toil the very contemplation of the situation compels! And when his task is achieved, and the finished product of his labour has passed out into the world, with what quiet and ineffable satisfaction the schoolmaster reflects upon the part he played in the making of men. In the days of my schoolmastering I fell into this mood always—gently carried thence by some beneficent ministering angel—when wearied and worried at the close of the long day's toil; and in that mood was more balm than in many sedatives and more sereneness than in much repose. This is the schoolmaster's first great compensation.
But there is that other. There is the agreeable amazement that the working of the fresh child-mind is always provoking. And in this the schoolmaster is regularly furnished with food for pleasant reflection and for engaging conjecture day by day throughout the whole of his pedagogic career. "Child-study" and "Psychology" have in recent times taken severely scientific shape, and have fallen under the ægis of Government Departments and into Government Syllabuses. Good! But the least observant and the least interested of all the schoolmasters of the land, long before the Board of Education ever added "Child-study" to its quaint if not exactly terrifying terminology, have never failed to arrive empirically at certain broad conclusions with regard to the child-mind which have been reached by practical and altogether delightful daily experiences. Heaven forbid that I should unduly weary the reader with disquisitions on these conclusions. But, at any rate, I may acceptably rehearse some of the experiences.
Now I admit at once that very many of the artlessly amusing things which are alleged to have been uttered by that prime unconscious humorist, the schoolboy, are quite apocryphal. They have been ingeniously excogitated by their unabashed and artful elders for the purpose of creating a laugh. They used to say that quill pens survived in the office of the Board of Education in order that the Inspectors and other officials, in the operation of persistently trimming them, might never be without something to do. That is absurd. There is always the profitable preoccupation of manufacturing funny puerile answers to inspectorial hypothetical questions. Why not? The proceeding is innocent enough. But it does tend to make one incredulous. For example, I was once told that a London Board School child defined "a lie" as "an abomination in the sight of the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble." It is possible, remotely possible. But it is extremely unlikely. Then when I am told that a youngster described "the liver" as "an infernal organ," I see visions of a not fully-occupied civil servant suffering acutely from an attack of chronic indigestion which has put him badly off his drive. So, too, when I am told that a Bristol youngster once wrote, "The bowels are five in number, namely a, e, i, o and u," like the Scotsman, "I hae ma doots!" Then there is the classic answer to the question: "What proof have we from the Bible that it is not lawful to have more than one wife"—"Because it says no man can serve two masters!" No child ever said that. And belonging to the same category is the following. The teacher asked: "If one man walking at the rate of three miles an hour gets half an hour's start of another man walking at the rate of four miles an hour, when will the second man overtake the first?" The allegation is that the small boy replied: "Please, sir, at the first public-house!" But I know that small boy. He is a wag, it is true; but he doesn't wear knickerbockers.
So far as possible, therefore, I will endeavour to reject the apocryphal in favour of the authentic, giving the former the benefit of the doubt, of course, if on its merits the humour of the anecdote seems to condone the illegitimacy of its origin.