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literary financiers, our literary bankrupts and pretenders, and our literary “ new lights."
I have remarked that our times are characterized by a fondness for high-sounding names. For examples of this, we may notice the business advertisements in our public papers, and the signs in our public streets. The dealer in house furniture, however limited his stock or his business, is sure to have the imposing " Warehouse” placed over his door. The man who sells oysters in some dismal ground room, or perhaps at the corner of the street froin a board resting upon two flour barrels beneath an awning, solicits custom from the passer-by, with the attractive “ Oyster Saloon,” painted in black letters above his head. The man who lives by shaving his customers has ceased to hang bis hopes for a livelihood upon the spirally-painted pole, so long the unequivocal mark of distinction for his craft; he now invites customers by the sonorous cognomen of “Gentlemen's Establishment." The industrious young lady, who has learned the art of fitting dresses for her neighbors, and has opened what was formerly a shop in the country village, now denominates it “Emporium of Fashion."
Our rail-road people, in order to designate the place where may be seen the strange mixture of men and machinery, cars and coaches, hackmen and hangers-on, lumber and luggage,—the “great trunk, little trunk, band-box and bundle" of the traveling public, mingled in admirable confusion, have introduced among us that awkward foreign word “ depot;” and as if there were a charm in the word, hucksters in every department have adopted it as best fitting their purpose; and we have our “Clothing depots,” our “ Furnishing depots,” our “ Pill depots ;” and last, though not least, our dealers in cheap literature, having collected together all the varieties of trash which the press has vomited forth upon a surfeited people, from the vilest penny sheet to the latest translation of a French love story, have taken to themselves the title of “ Literary Depots.”
Precisely after the same style, the credulity of our people is not unfrequently addressed in the public papers, in which the skill of teachers and the excellence of certain Academies, Institutes, Literary Saloons, Classic Halls, and the like, are so pompously heralded, that one is almost compelled to doubt whether he has not just awoke from the reverie of a hundred years, and found. himself among the incredibles of the twentieth century. The “Royal Road” to learning, so long sought for, has ceased to be a desideratum. As for study and diligence, they are discarded as old-fashioned and unworthy means of becoming wise and great. In some of these advertisements, it is signified that the pupil shall be amused by the magic art of the teacher, unconsciously into the depths of learning, and that his severest toil shall be listening to very attractive lectures, illustrated by uncommonly brilliant experiments, which shall make him thoroughly acquainted with great things, not only without study, but without thought. Reading is to be taught in a month; Philosophy, Natural and Moral, in another month; Chemistry in two lectures; Music and Arithmetic in a fortnight; Book keeping in three days, and Penmanship, (I quote from an advertisement before me),
even where the hand is most awkward and cramped to a pupil of any age, from seven years to sixty, impart
ing the most finished style, in only twelve lessons, occupying the short space of six hours."
Nor is all this pretension uncalled for ; a demand in the community has called forth the supply; the credulity has welcomed the imposition. Open almost any paper of wide circulation, and you may see that which will remind you of the imposing sign hung out by
« A certain spectacle maker, I've forgot his name;" and if you will look about you, you may also see those, who will aptly enough remind you of the swain, who in the hope of supplying a trifling defect in his early education, applied to him for “helps to read.”
Before we assume, then, that the cause of public instruction has moved onward gradually, though slowly, from the settlement of New England to the present time, frankness demands that we should confess the impediments that have clogged its course;—nay, ingenuousness and truth alike demand that we should point out the impositions of the artful and the mistakes of the injudicious. Every innovation, then, has not been an improvement. When men began to discover that the old methods of teaching were somewhat too mechanical and in some instances too abstract, many went quite too far in explaining beforehand to the mind of the scholar, what it would have been better for him to study out by the exercise of his own ingenuity School books soon followed, so filled with colloquial explanations and childish illustrations, as literally to “bury up" the little solid matter they contained; and in some, so abundant had this small talk become, that had their use been long continued, I am persuaded that the minds not only of pupils, but of the teachers, must have been essentially cramped
and enervated by them. This was an extreme even worse than the one it was intended to cure, on the ground that too much assistance either to the physical or mental efforts of a child, is decidedly worse than too little.
So when it began to be discovered that the government in some of the old fashioned schools was too austere and too tyrannical—too much enforced by the severer modes of punishment, such as Solomon recommended as sometimes salutary, there were many who rose up to favor the opposite extreme; and in their zeal to denounce all severity, were ready to sacrifice all order and respect on the part of their pupils. “ This barbarism,” we were every where told, was a relic of the dark ages, and, like a belief in witchcraft and apparitions, was to be abandoned, amid the daylight of the present age.” This idea, promulgated by teachers, gained some popularity with parents, and a jubilee was forthwith proclaimed to the pupils of very many schools; the rod, that old and faithful servant, was snatched from its dignified and time-honored resting place in the affections of the lovers of good order and subordination, and with ruthless zeal, excommunicated as a traitor and a tyrant,and with reckless hand consigned to the doom of many an ancient martyr. In some instances, the reform was carried so far as to introduce a republican form of government, in which the teacher scarcely reserved the one man" power of exercising the veto. The general proclamation of the doctrine that punishment was unnecessary, if not absolutely cruel,—announced as it was with applause by the public lecturer, and repeated at the fireside by kind-hearted and indulgent parents, did very much to introduce a spirit of insubordination in many of our schools, which it will require time and persevering firmness to subdue. Probably no cause has operated so strongly to make corporal punishment, of the severer kind, necessary, as this attempt to over-do a desirable reform. Many teachers worked their way into popularity by publicly declaring their conversion to the new doctrine; but many found the crown they thus acquired to be a very difficult one to retain. The doctrine once embraced and proclaimed in their schools, was attended by such unseemly developements in its results, that not a few teachers were reduced to the alternative of abandoning their new light, or of abandoning their profession; or, perhaps, adding a third horn to the dilemma, they found relief for themselves by taking charge of a female school. This, like the last mentioned extreme, is working its own cure; and as the light is most precious to such as have groped their way through darkness to seek it,—so, I doubt not, the cause of truth on this point will in the end gain much strength, on account of the fact, that so many of the profession have made the circuit of this error to find it.
Notwithstanding these admissions of error, it cannot be denied, I think, that the cause of public instruction, in its means and methods, has undergone a gradual, and in many respects a very decided improvement. Perhaps this improvement is a variable quantity-greater in some places than in others—yet taken in general terms, it is capable of admeasurement, at least by approximation. The amount of improvement will be best shown by taking a few specific items, and running a comparison between their condition as it was and as it is. It will be the object of the following pages to institute such a comparison,