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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter III

The Cornwall Grammar School.

IT was on one of those bright warm mornings in early May, which our Canadian climate occasionally affords, that a lad about ten years of age was making his way to Cornwall on horseback. He was attended by a trusty servant-man; across the saddle of whose horse was slung a pair of capacious saddle-bags, containing the youth’s modest wardrobe and supply of books. This was the only practicable mode of conveyance at that season of the year; and in some places floating “corduroy” bridges rendered the road rather hazardous, especially to so inexperienced a horseman. He was full of glee at the idea of entering the renowned school at Cornwall, and allowed no gloomy presages to overcloud his bright hopes. But there was many a sad day to mingle with the joyous ones that came after; a monitor of the future life,—a lesson conveyed thus early that even youth’s hopeful season is not all serene and bright.

The next day was Sunday; and he joined the gathering of boys at the old grammar school-house, nearly opposite the parsonage. Those outside maintained a very staid and respectable demeanour,—standing in groups in their Sunday’s best, or sauntering about within safe distance of the parsonage; whereas, within, there was romping and tumbling, shouts of young voices and clouds of dust. But the moment the Principal presented himself in his flowing gown and powdered head at the front door of the parsonage, there was a rush of every boy to the gate of that dwelling; a procession was formed; and the whole school, two and two, marched to the church close by,—the master following. On arriving at the church door, they formed two single lines on either side, and the master walked between them into church,—all the boys uncovering. The service was conducted with great decorum; the elder boys making the responses audibly, and the simple, rustic-looking congregation very devout and attentive. Old Mr. S usually led the singing, and maintained it in tremulous, quivering tones; very few others joining with him. One honest member of the congregation Mr. E , invariably stood up about the middle of the sermon, and, facing the clergyman, kept his eyes fixed upon him till all was concluded. In the afternoon,—for there was but one service,—the boys had liberty to walk where they pleased; but they rarely misconducted themselves. There was, in fact, great risk in doing so ; as the “censors” for the week, who gave in their reports on Monday morning, had a column for such as played, or otherwise misbehaved themselves, on Sunday.

Monday was generally called “black Monday”; as, what from the censors’ reports, and the numerous tasks and exercises on that morning presented, a more than usual amount of punishment followed. The youth referred to above, crept quietly in after the school had opened, and was much awed by. the sights and sounds he witnessed,— the sounding lash, and the shrinkings and contortions of the unfortunate ones that were made to come under it. But the punishment after all was not very severe, and was administered with great temper and impartiality. This ordeal through, the principal came over to where that youth sat quiet and timid; he kindly shook hands with him, patted him on the head, and assigned him his class and his work. Thus commenced the acquaintance, that by and by ripened into a life-long and never broken friendship, between the late Bishop of Toronto and the writer of this Memoir.

A brief sketch of our school work, as it was in those days pursued, will not be uninteresting.

After Prayers on Monday morning, the "Weekly Register” was read by one of the censors of the past week; mentioning every class, what they had done during the week, who had been head and foot of the several classes, and how often. On other days, the Register called the "Daily Register,” stated in the same form the work of the preceeding day only. At the end of each month, a book called the "Book of Merit,” was made up from the Weekly Register, in which were inserted the names of those who, during the previous month, had been oftenest head in their respective classes, or who had in other raspects distinguished themselves. The performance of voluntary tasks was much encouraged,—such as translations from English into Latin, original poetry, and essays on any subject selected at the writers own discretion; and if these were approved of by the Principal, they were ordered to be inserted in the Book of Merit.

There was also a "Black Book,”—of much less ponderous size and pretentious appearance than the Book of Merit,—in which were recorded the names of those who had been particularly negligent, or who had disgraced themselves by improper conduct. The records of each book were read out aloud by the Principal on the first Wednesday in each month, with remarks from the Principal of commendatory or disparaging character, as the cases might respectively demand. The "Book of Merit” is still in existence, and has oftentimes been examined and commented upon by old scholars of the Cornwall School,, when spending a quiet evening with their revered Tutor. With considerate tenderness, the "Black Book” seems to have been consigned to fitting darkness. The records of its pages have not been allowed to recall unpleasant memories of the past; honours and rewards are remembered, but boyish delinquencies and degradations have been given over to oblivion.

The work of each day commenced with the reading aloud by the respective classes, of a portion of some historical work, or Enfield's or Walker's Speaker,—the principal taking them, with his assistants, in turn. On two days in the week, dictation followed the reading. The master read aloud a few sentences, carefully noting the punctuation; and this, every member of the class was required to write down carefully on his slate. Each boy’s performance was then examined, and errors were marked by a score underneath; those with fewest mistakes took respectively the highest places. If the mistakes were so numerous as to betoken particular negligence, not only was there a lowering of position in the class, but a slight punishment was also inflicted. This proved an admirable method of getting boys into the habit of spelling correctly,—an accomplishment in education not unfrequently overlooked. On one occasion it happened that the dictation was made inadvertently from a chapter that had not been read; and, in consequence, every boy's performance was miserably incorrect. The Principal ordered the whole chapter to be committed to memory against Monday morning,—the day of the occurrence was Saturday,—as a punishment for the apparent negligence. This was a hard case, but it had to be submitted to. In the interval, however, he had discovered his mistake, and made no demand on Monday morning for the imposition,—greatly to the relief of all in the class.

The junior Latin classes were very thoroughly drilled. The lessons were short; but not only had the whole to be construed several times over, but every noun that occurred had to be declined, and every verb conjugated; the rules, too, demanded for every variation. Even in the more advanced classes, this particularity, though in a different way, was maintained. In nouns and adjectives they were asked to state one or more cases in each number; in verbs, they were asked for the participles or supines, or bid to go through consecutively the second or third persons, singular or plural, of every tense in every mood, both in active and passive voices. Sometimes to ensure more perfect accuracy and mastering of the -subject, they were desired to go through this backwards.

In Arithmetic and Algebra, the several classes brought up one or more prepared questions on their slates, which were examined as to their accuracy. Then the work was rubbed out; some one boy was called upon to read the question, and thus commence working it aloud, giving the rules and reasons for every step; and, as he proceeded, the rest of the class silently worked with him, writing down figure by figure, but ready to correct him, and take his place, if he made any mistake. When the leader had finished, the work on each boy’s slate was inspected ; and if any errors were detected, he lost place according to their number. The second question was then proceeded with in the same manner; and sometimes both were worked over a second and even a third time, so as to test every boys ability and expertness.

About twenty minutes before the closet of the school on each morning, Saturday excepted, the several classes formed for writing,—their respective copy-books placed before them, with copper-plate lines at the head. At the word “Compare,” the boys started up, and placed their copybooks on a range of desks, in the order in which they stood the day before. They were inspected by the Head-master, and made to take precedence according to their merits,— a copy-book sometimes shifted from a very low position almost to the top.

The Geography of countries, Natural History, and Civil History were taught in a peculiar way. These had each their respective days in the week,—always in the afternoon, and the last thing before the closing of the school On the day appointed for each respectively, not le3S than twenty questions with their answers were to be produced by each boy, fairly written out. The boy at the foot then asked a question, upon the given subject, of the boy next above him: if answered, the latter asked the third, and so on through the class. If it happened that the boy asked could not answer, the questioner answered for him and took his place; and he then continued to ask questions until stopped by [being correctly answered. If there was any unreasonable delay in a boy’s asking a question when his turn came, he lost his privilege of asking any more; and any one asking a question that had been asked before, also lost his privilege. In this way the competitors soon became reduced in number, and the whole was concluded within a reasonable time. As the chances of success were very poor unless the subject had been well got up beforehand,—for no boy had time to be searching through his paper for an answer to the question proposed, —it is very evident that no more effectual method could have been adopted for thoroughly impressing on the memory the subject thus introduced.

Once a week, generally on a Monday afternoon, there was an exercise in Reading, and a method for improving the Elocution, which probably was peculiar to this school. Two or three boys in their turn, challenged each two other boys to read a passage in prose or verse: this was formally announced a week beforehand and duly recorded, so that every one had ample time for preparation. The challenger came into an open place, and read first; the challenged immediately followed. Judgment as to which was the best reader was not pronounced by the Principal himself, but left to a committee appointed for that purpose. If these, by their spokesman gave a wrong judgment, they were sharply rebuked for it; but almost universally their judgments were acquiesed in by the Principal. The benefit of such a system to all parties,—the listeners as well as the readers,—is obvious.

About once in two months there was the public recitation of a debate, for which great preparations were made. Two leaders on either side of some great question,—say the Slave Trade,—were selected, and they made their choice out of the best speakers in the school, of as many as were required to fill the debate. Every one’s allotted speech had to be committed carefully to memory, and some of these were several pages in length; so that, in conjunction with the regular work of the school, it was pretty severe labour. Still the boys took very cheerfully to the task; as the excitement on the day of repetition was intense, not only on the part of the debaters, but of the whole school; especially at the close, the Principal gave his judgment upon the manner in which each side acquitted themselves.

I shall notice only one other peculiarity of the school, and this was the Saturday lecture. On this day, just before the half-day’s school was closed, a lecture was delivered by the Principal, occupying about fifteen minutes, on Ancient or Modern History, Ethics, or a portion of Scripture, as the case might be; for each of these subjects was taken up in turn. Probably two-thirds of the school were required to hand, in on the Monday morning, a short abstract of this lecture, which was carefully read over by the Principal. Praise was fully bestowed where it was deserved; but negligence, exhibited in a very poor performance, was rebuked, and sometimes punished. When the transcript was particularly bad, the writer was made to learn it by heart and repeat it next morning; and on some occasions, he was desired to stand on the top of a desk and read it aloud, to the great amusement of the school and his own deep mortification. No more effectual cure for indolence or negligence could have been devised.

Enough has been addressed to shew how patiently and thoroughly the boys of the Cornwall Grammar School were drilled on eveiy subject that formed part of their studies; enough to shew the grounds for the reputation far and wide which that school has gained.

Distinguished men were occasionally visitors of the school; and the annual examinations attracted gentlemen from Quebec and Montreal on the one side, and York, Kingston, and Niagara on the other. Amongst the casual visitors was the Bishop of Quebec, Dr. Jacob Mountain, whose first visit to the school was signalized by the presentation to his Lordship of an Ode in English from the three senior boys of the school, and an Ode in Latin, Sapphic and Adonian, from the Principal himself. The former was very creditable to its youthful authors; and upon the latter the Bishop thus expressed himself in a letter dated January 25, 1804:—“With respect to your Ode, I find considerable difficulty in giving an opinion upon the merits of a composition, in which you are pleased to speak so very favourably of me. But I must not refuse to do you the justice, nor myself the pleasure, of saying that, in my judgment, it has real poetical merit; and contains sentiments which do equal honour to your feelings and your taste. I need hardly add, that the cultivation of this talent, in a moderate degree, and applied to proper subjects, may clearly be placed under a certain class of amusements to which I alluded in my charge; nor need I, I am convinced, caution you against indulging even this elegant and pleasing talent, to the neglect of more important pursuits, and more profitable studies. The veiy sentiments contained in this Ode are a pledge to me that such a caution is unnecessary.”

Poetical composition was much encouraged in the Cornwall school, as being of much value in promoting a readiness of conception and expression, and a more copious and graceful diction. Half-holidays, except on Saturdays, were never granted except on some special occasion or event,— as a great victory on land or sea, the arrival of a new scholar, or the visit to the school of some gentleman of high standing in the country. But a few lines of satisfactory. poetry would always ensure a half holiday, when there was nothing else for which to claim it; and as the school was never without its laureate, his talents were frequently in requisition to procure this boon. Like other poets, he was not always “in the vein/’ and his lines were therefore rejected; but his successes, on the whole, were more frequent than his failures. The laureate sometimes, and no doubt for satisfactory reasons, refused to write. On one of these occasions,—the poet, we believe, was the late Sir John B. Robinson,—the task was assigned to two or three others who, amongst them it was thought, would evoke the passable lines. These young gentlemen, to avoid interruption, betook themselves to the tower of the church, standing at its west end generally with open doors. This work proved a failure; and many a playful gibe and jeer was afterwards flung at the “ steeple committee,” as they were designated by him to whom they ventured to constitute themselves rivals.

An appropriate conclusion to these remarks on the Cornwall school, will be a few extracts from a very excellent address delivered by the Principal to his pupils at the annual examination in August, 1807; when several of them had completed their education, and were about to prepare themselves for the work in life which they had respectively chosen:—

I begin with an observation which, to many of you, will appear a little extraordinary; it is this, that one of the greatest advantages you have derived from your education here, arises from the strictness of our discipline. Those of you who have not already perceived how much your tranquillity depends upon the proper regulation of the temper, will soon be made sensible of it as you advance in years. You will find people who have never known what it is to be in habitual subjection to precept and just authority, breaking forth into violence and outrage on the most frivolous occasions. The passions of such persons, when once roused, soon become ungovernable; and that impatience of restraint which they have been allowed to indulge, embitters the greater portion of their lives. Now the discipline necessary to correct the impetuosity of the passions, is often found no where but in well-regulated schools; for, though it should be the first care of parents, they are too apt to be blinded by affection, and grant liberties to their children which reason disapproves.

“Next to the due regulation of the passions and melioration of the temper, which we very justly reckon one of the most important advantages resulting from a well-conducted education, we place those habits of diligence and application, to which you have been accustomed in the prosecution of your studies. These habits are of the greatest use at every age; but if they are not acquired in youth, they are very seldom attained. They are certainly the foundation of all future excellence; for how can any person advance in his professional studies, or transact business with correctness and despatch, unless he be accustomed to application 1 Never did any one gain pre-eminence without exertion. The memorable example of Demosthenes has become trite, because so frequently adduced; l?ut read the private history of any of those men who have risen above their fellows, and you will find that they commonly obtained this distinction by vigorous application.

“Be careful, my young friends, in the prosecution of your professional studies, to improve the advantages which you have here acquired. Be patient, diligent, and methodical, and you will make rapid and profitable progress. It is to the want of a systematic education, to a confused method of thinking, early acquired but never thoroughly removed, that we must attribute those numerous inconsistencies and that confusion of ideas, which we find so general amongst those we converse with. The opinions of persons of credit are frequently taken up by men without examination, or deduced from principles in themselves erroneous, because they have never given themselves the trouble of sifting them to the bottom. How contemptible rash opinions, unsupported by solid reasons, must appear to an accurate thinker, though delivered with fluency or even elegance of language, it is easy to imagine. By encouraging you to think accurately, and to exercise industry and application, we have endeavored to protect you from this rock, and to give solidity to all your future acquisitions. It is only the man who is not afraid to decide for himself, that can discharge any oflice he may hold, with probity and honor.

“While you are qualifying yourselves to discharge with dignity the duties of your profession, you must not forget that something more is necessary to render business pleasant. In order to do this, you must behave in a kind and affectionate manner to all who have intercourse with you; a mildness of treatment, a condescension to inferiors, a ready obedience to the just commands of superiors, contribute, in a remarkable degree, to make a man content and useful in society. It will be obvious to you all that I do not recommend that artificial politeness which decorates the countenance with a smile, while the heart is rankling with malice; and which will descend to flatter the wicked and the proud, when interest approves. No; the civility of manners which I would recommend, flows from the heart, and is intimately connected with all the finer affections that can adorn human nature.

"At the same time that you are animated with the laudable ambition of excelling in your profession, and rendering yourselves agreeable by your amiable manners, do not neglect to improve those correct principles of religion and virtue, which must ever constitute your most solid merit. Impress upon your minds the sublime and affecting truth that there is a God above, our Friend, our Benefactor, the Creator of all things; and that it is only by imitating His moral perfections, as brought home to our hearts and affections by our blessed Redeemer, that we can render ourselves worthy of the rank we hold in the scale of beings, and enjoy solid pleasure in this life, and in that which is to come.

"Suffer me, however, to remind you that he who wishes to lie a good man, and rise in moral excellence, must begin with being a dutiful child; Obedience to parents, an anxious solicitude to please them and to increase their innocent enjoyments, are indications of an amiable and generous soul. It is the foundation-stone, the test of virtue; and unless it be so founded, it has no value. I shall boldly affirm that the man who does not look back with delight at every pleasure he has given his parents; who feels not a most agreeable emotion at the recollection of hw exertions to render them happy; and who experiences no compunction for acts of disobedience or neglect, can never feel much satisfaction m this world. Cherish, then, this tender filial affection; it will protect you from vice, when far away from your families and homes. When you are assaulted by temptation; when the wicked and profligate are attempting to draw you into their snares, and to corrupt the pure and amidble principles you have imbibed; when your resolution staggers and begins to give way, the tender recollection of your parents will rush upon your minds and arrest your attention. It will dispel the allurements of vice, and enable you to escape its toils.

“Before I conclude, let me recommend the cultivation of friendship. The connexions formed at school frequently continue through life. This union, if founded on virtue, and nourished by similarity of disposition and congenial souls, will be the delight of your future lives. With what fondness do we recollect the companions of our early years! With what emotion do we look back to those mutual endearments which bound us to one another,—to the noble resolutions we had formed,—and to our determination to continue the friends of virtue and truth! These are feelings which give us the liveliest pleasure, when most of the enjoyments of this transient scene have ceased to delight.

“Cultivate, then, my young friends, all those virtues which dignify the human character, and mark in your behaviour the respect you entertain for everything venerable and holy. It is this conduct and these sentiments that will raise you above the rivalship, the intrigues, and slanders by which you will be surrounded. They will exalt you above this little spot of earth, so full of malice, contention and disorder; and extend your views, with joy and expectation, to that better country which is beyond the grave.”

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