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These last remarks of Bunker, as taunting as they were in import, were yet made in such a half-reproachful, halfrespectful manner, that they might not have brought our hero to any decision, but for the low, deriding laugh which the two larger boys set up on the occasion, and which fell upon his ears with such an exasperating effect, that it brought him to an instant determination, and he replied, with unwonted spirit,
“ I will come on, sir; and with your permission, we will see whether pupil or teacher shall be the master of the school for the remainder of the winter.”
“Good! that sounds like something," said Bunker, with returning good humor. Boys,” he continued, nodding significantly to his two oldest sons, “ boys, did you hear that ? Ah! all will come out well enough, I imagine. But come, sir, now we have settled the contract, we will walk into the house for a little refreshment before we let you go home ; and while taking it, we will fix on the day of beginning the school, first boarding place, &c. Come, sir, come on; and if you have a good appetite, I will promise you a good dinner.”
The decisive answer, which bound our hero to engage in this school, had now been given, and he had too much pride to make any attempts to recede from it; although, it must be confessed, that as soon as the momentary impulse, under which he had thus consummated the bargain, had died away, he more than half regretted the step he had taken. As it was, however, he soon determined to throw aside, as far as possible, both fears and regrets, and, arming himself with the rectitude of his purposes, proceed boldly and decidedly upon the task now before him. He at once saw, that, in this school, as in many others in our country, especially in the newer parts of it, a false standard of honor had, from some peculiar combination of circumstances, sprung up among the scholars ; that instead of intellectual attainments, physical prowess, or mere brute force, had unfortunately been made
the subject of predominating applause; and that this, as a very natural consequence, had led to the insubordination, and the frequent attempts of bullying the master, of which he had heard. And he justly reasoned, that, if he could break down this false standard, and set up the true one, as he was resolved, as far as practicable, to do, it would not only insure his own success, but prove the greatest of blessings to the school. He could not expect, however, to effect this object, at once; and the greatest difficulties, therefore, he would have to encounter, would be likely to occur during the first weeks of his school. It was this which had caused him so long to hesitate. But having, at length, been spurred into the undertaking, in the manner above mentioned, he now made up his mind to face the dangers manfully; and, if acts of moral courage would not serve, physical force, according to the best of his ability, should be employed to complete the conquest, till his contemplated reformation, in this objectionable feature of the school, could be effected. It was with these feelings, that, after an interesting hour spent in general conversation, during the preparing and partaking of the substantial meal provided on the occasion, Locke Amsden took leave of his singular host and employer, and departed.
On his way homeward, young Amsden fell to revolving over in mind the occurrences of the day, dwelling on the unexpected manner in which he had been received and examined, and on the still more unexpected intelligence of the man with whom he had thus come in contact, with the interested and curious feelings of one to whom some new leaf in the book of human nature has been presented for contemplation and study. He had been taken by complete surprise by the character of Bunker. Like many other students, whose intercourse is yet mainly confined to their fellows and instructors of the high schools, he had been led to underrate the strength and compass of the uneducated mind;
and he had expected to find, in the person in question, when he understood him to be ignorant of even the simplest rudiments of learning, one of a corresponding ignorance of principles and lack of ideas. But, instead of this, he had found a wholly unlettered man, who had grasped and mastered all the leading principles of several of the most important sciences; and who, by his own unassisted thought and observation, had stored his mind with a fund of original ideas more ample, perhaps, than that of many a scholar who had trod the whole round of the sciences. Some of Bunker's notions, it is true — such, for instance, as his opinion of booklearning, and the views he apparently entertained relative to a dependence on force for governing a school — our hero believed to be entirely erroneous; but the greater part of the man's ideas had struck him as not only new, but
generally as forcible and just. And now, as he again called them to mind, and thought of the disadvantages under which they had been acquired, he could not forbear mentally exclaiming, “What might not such a mind become by the assistance of a well-applied education ? "
Such were the reflections of our young aspirant, who, ever eager for knowledge, from whatever source it might come, felt himself instructed by what he had that day heard and witnessed. And well and wisely had he acted, in listening, in the spirit of candid inquiry, to the suggestions of one whose ideas were so entirely the fruits of his own independent thought and discriminating observation ; for among people of such minds, however obscure or illiterate they may be, will be found, for those who can separate truth from the errors with which it may there occasionally be intermixed, the most productive fields for gleaning knowledge.
It. was a favorite theory of the self-taught mountaineer whom we have introduced, it will be recollected, that every thing depended on being able to think. It would be well,
perhaps, for the cause of science, if there were among those claiming to be friends to her advancement, more who held to the same opinion — who were at the same pains to enforce, by precept and example, this theory in its true meaning, as they are to remould, amplify, and bring out in new dresses, the thoughts which those old strong thinkers of gone-by days have wrought out for the appropriation of the intellectual idlers and surface-skimming book-makers of the present. This may be, and doubtless is, a reading age; but with all its advantages, we see not what claim it has to be called a thinking age.
The cause of this may, in some measure, perhaps, be attributable to the prevailing utilitarian spirit of the times, which is more likely to lead only to the lighter investigations required in turning to account what is already known in science, than to laborious thinking, and those profound researches by which the scholars of past times were accustomed to push their way in the field of discovery; and which, by inviting and turning, through superior inducement, the greater proportion of the talents of the day into one channel, may have a tendency to circumscribe, impede, and weaken the operations of mind, and unfit it for the free, bold, and vigorous action which ever characterizes a thinking age. Another cause for this intellectual characteristic of our times may, perhaps, be found in the great comparative ease with which knowledge is now acquired. The sciences, as now taught in our schools, are simplified to the utmost. Besides this, a great proportion of our textbooks are prepared with questions involving most of what is essential to be learned on the subject matter therein contained. The answers to these questions, we fear, are quite too often obtained at an easier rate than by investigations of the lessons from which they alone should be gathered, and consequently without a full understanding of the subject. What is still worse in this system, as usually conducted,
it naturally fixes in the mind of the pupil a limit beyond which he conceives he need not push his investigations; and when that limit, which embraces all the questions propounded, is gained, he thinks his task perfected. In this manner he is deterred from extending his inquiries on many different points which might otherwise occur to his mind, and from examining many bearings of the subject which he otherwise would do. But whatever may be the cause of the fact, if fact it be, as we believe, the existence of that fact is an evil which is as unnecessary as it is ominous to the progress scientific discovery; and it should awaken the attention of the friends of science to the adoption of a course of measures that shall have a tendency to supply a remedy, without infringing upon the advantages to be derived from any real improvements which have been made.
We will now return from our digression. After a long and tedious ride, during which a dark and squally night had shut down over the desolate landscape, our hero's eyes were at length greeted with the cheering light that issued from the blazing logs, which, as usual on nights of the wintry character of the present, were liberally piled on the hearth of his father's kitchen. On reaching the house, he put his horse into the stable, and joined the family group within, whom, for the last hour, he had been envying, as he truly pictured them sitting in comfort around the social fireside. Having done good justice to a choice repast which maternal solicitude had prepared and kept in readiness for his expected return, he related the adventures of his excursion and the result, and paused to hear the comments which his parents and brother might make on the occasion.
“ They must be strange people,” remarked Mrs. Amsden; s and as parents, singular, indeed, must be their notions, which permit them thus to sanction the conduct of their