tions, imbibes generally the juvenile traditions of public school life, and worships the day that will carry him on to the great seminary chosen for his educational outfit. There he proceeds about the age of fourteen, a healthy-looking, well-grown boy with not very much in his head unless he is phenomenal or has been heavily crammed, and no startling ideas or deep ambitions beyond perhaps the dream of figuring as school representative in the Boat, Eleven, or Fifteen. He does not weigh or care much as a rule what he is going to learn, or how he will turn his learning to account.

This, the croakers will say, is all wrong; but it is not so; he is in the delightful phase of boyhood, and it is a crime to blight it by attempting to fix a grave head on young shoulders. What is more charmless and melancholy than children who cannot bend to the innocent vanities of youth or can be even hostile to its allurements? At that age their brains are not yet formed; they are brimming over with gay and buoyant spirits which do not accommodate themselves to great thoughts of becoming Lord Chancellors and Archbishops. Moreover, if they started with such grand ideas at the big school their toes would be trodden upon and other gentle suffering inflicted, to remind them that there were a good many senior candidates in front of them. So that the tendency is to keep youth in its natural place and not to encourage infant prodigies. Genius and ability will be sure to assert themselves in due time according to the fitness of things; there is no keeping them under.

On arrival at the big school our young friend begins again at the foot, and thus far has had the experience of proceeding by useful steps from the bottom to the top of a baby school, and then starting fresh on the ladder of a higher circle. That is all in his favour. If he was inclined to be conceited with himself as one of the swells at the Preparatory, it is knocked out of him, and the door is opened for him to go in and win new spurs. He is in fact taught to perfect himself in the goose step of public school ranks and is passed through the elementary stage of discipline which attends the process of elevation from the ranks to command. That command may mean in turn the head of his form, his dormitory or house, leadership in games, the authority of one in the sixth form, or finally the coveted position of being head of the school.

The holder of any of those positions has had to endure at the hands of his fellows criticism, abuse, jealousy, and applause of the most exhilarating description if won, for there is no more enthusiastic audience in the world than that which greets a boy after a meritorious innings, a fine run at football, or upon advancing to receive a scholarship or other reward for merit. It is

therefore a fine theatre for training, where wholesome discipline prevails and qualities are not only being constantly developed but tested. In that kind of atmosphere each one receives impressions, and he emerges from the ordeal with a certain amount of character varying in force according to his nature and capability.

Why some rise to the occasion so much more easily than others, all things being equal, is at times a mystery. Nothing of course is more faulty than to assess all boys of even age as equal also in capacity, or to assume that, because some do not show early promise of great things or signs of ability they are not and cannot ever become capable. It often happens that under an apparently torpid disposition there lies brain power which only needs the touch of a chord to awaken and set going. What an edifying story it would be, if a group of head masters could be induced to relate in one record their life-long experiences of the surprises they had encountered in respect of those pupils who failed strangely to justify promise, and those who advanced unexpectedly after hanging back to a late moment. And not only their recollections, but their inferences as to how it came about that most hopeful cases occasionally proved failures and gloomy cases turned out brilliant successes-what led to it—what, in fact, was the turning point upwards or downwards, that is to say, an accident, influence or inspiration.

An analysis of the careers of distinguished men during the past hundred years shows, for instance, how few comparatively were renowned as great scholars, and how many, on the other hand, who left school with the reputation of being only ordinary if not indifferent performers became eminent leaders of thought and action in after life as statesmen, soldiers, authors, administrators, and what not. This somewhat strange order of things is hard to reconcile. Though we cannot clearly understand why it should be so, it is possible to suggest reasons.

If one feature is more evident than another in a study of biography, it is that the human mind has frequently been unmasked by extraordinary influences, and that often its deployment has been retarded for want of exciting impulse or timely inspiration.

We recognise that genius is usually a gift born to the owner, such as in regard to music, poetry, invention, and, as some think, command; but the acquisition of the latter faculty, first as a habit and then as a force, may oftentimes be traced to the opportunities which school experience has afforded for the practice of it.

This article, however, does not contemplate dealing with phenomenal beings who are interesting subjects for professors in the study of cerebral anatomy; it is intended to deal rather

with the general average individuals possessed of an ordinary share of brains. What we know is that some intellects give precocious signs of proficiency in any task or business they may be set to accomplish; others in early stages appear slack and dull of comprehension.

The minds of young people, like their bodies, grow at various ages and in various ways. It is a commonplace to hear that such and such a boy has sprung up or grown out physically in one term or vacation. Similarly, his brain may suddenly appear to expand and indicate ability hitherto obscure. Thus it must be difficult for parents and masters to discover mental power where its growth, which may be stimulated by utterly unknown and unimagined causes, is entirely beyond their control. It may be that health has affected it or that the one thing essential to quicken it has not been discovered. Then perhaps some magnetism sets the mind going as well as growing and we wonder what the motive power springs from, what brought to the surface energy and ability that no one ever dreamt of. Casting round for explanation we hit upon a lot of conjectures and arrive at the conclusion, different in each case probably, that it may have been that sympathetic talking to,' that gentle remonstrance,' that 'singular opportunity,' or that stirring ambition.' Above all stands out the fact that ability of a certain order was there all the time and only wanted drawing out.

Now, there are several sorts of capacity commonly exhibited which a parent or tutor can trace and cultivate, such as memory, application, quick understanding and solid grasp. These all minister to the composition of mind, but are not the absolute formulæ required for the constitution of character, which cannot be built up by study alone, and is in general the product of various influences exerted during a lengthened course of studentship. There is no manner of doubt that the good influence of masters and tutors ranks very high in the founding of character, and that as a rule it is exercised with telling effect. But there are other factors which synchronise with it.

We are accustomed to hear complaints from the upbraiding section ever ready to put things right, and to read periodical howls addressed to the Times and other organs of the Press inveighing against the perniciousness of games as encouraged at our public schools to the detriment of learning. We are told that the German nation, whose army is held up as an idol to be worshipped (though man for man it is not as good as our own), and whose every institution and system are assumed to be superior to ours, has reached its present altitude of greatness and prosperity without games. It is not a convincing argument, because, in the opinion of many, they would have fared better still if national

pastimes like our own, which they sometimes try to adopt, had been a characteristic. It is probably true that at the completion of their studies the German boys are better primed in the arts and sciences. But that is not all which goes to make men.

For the abuse of games there is nothing to say, except that it may be condemned as freely as vice or any other objectionable practice. Even the misdemeanour of cramming learning into brain-weary boys may be denounced.. For the use of games in due season there is much to be said. You cannot with profit concentrate a juvenile mind on work for more than a limited number of hours in a day or days in a week. If you do, the brain gets as clouded and overloaded as the stomach after a surfeit of Christmas feeding, and that means the doctor or abstinence. Boys require change, refreshment and, if healthy, output of energy, without which what miserable objects they would be. They want tonic excitement such as may be derived from robust games, which revive all that remains of the chivalry the books on their library shelves tell them of. What a charm there is, for instance, in the anticipation of contest, the shock of a scrimmage, the thrill of keen rivalry; and what value in exciting the physical energy, which modern races have in some degree lost since they have ceased to be governed by the law that the fit can only survive by the exercise of it. Energy, in fact, requires stimulation or it is liable to decay. Natural history affords us an object lesson in the example of those birds which, being no longer compelled to fly in self-protection, have ceased to do so and lost the capacity. Similarly, our boys if not urged to manly exercise as part of a system would soon lose their vitality and become knock-kneed specimens.

Let us consider for a moment what qualities are demanded and developed by our national games and pastimes in vogue at schools. To begin with, take cricket. Before a boy wins his way to the status of players in the front rank, many stages have had to be traversed. He has had to fag, to be coaxed and broken into careful play at the nets, to practise fielding and other accomplishments. Then he has to be keen so as to catch the eye of the captain or coach, to show himself capable of effort, to keep his head in crises and to compete with others in the contest for highest efficiency. Finally, upon winning his colours, he has to subordinate himself to the captaincy until such time as he can gain the crest himself, to play unselfishly for his side and keep up its reputation; and all the time to remember that a game is never lost till it is won and may always be saved by the last effort of the last player. And then he finds himself partner in a game conspicuous from all time for its perfect straightforwardness. There is absolutely nothing crooked in its methods and aims.

much was the honour of the thing enshrined in the bosoms of players, that a proverb coined in days gone by has been handed down for generations as part of the moral code to condemn any unworthy act in the phrase 'It isn't cricket, it isn't playing the game.' That proverb runs throughout the British Empire wherever its sons are gathered, whether the game continues to serve them as a pleasure to be shared in or not; and it is an enduring game which affords refreshment to millions of watchers after they have abandoned the pursuit of it.

Then, as regards football, we find it arouses the same ambitions, the same effort to excel and win a high place as cricket does. The game is one to beget and preserve manly fellows who will take buffeting and bruises in good part and will work unsparingly for their side. Egoism is not an uncommon fault with schoolboys. There is nothing which tends to cure it more than football, where if you play honestly for your side you cannot be selfish, and if you are selfish you soon come under the ban of a schoolboy audience which is quick to observe and strong to express itself. So likewise the shirker has a poor time and is exhorted to perform thoroughly the task he is appointed to do.

To take another illustration, viz. rowing, limited of course to riverside schools. It has, probably more than any other branch of athletics, excited the ardour of eminent Britishers-otherwise studious of habit-who have emanated from our public schools and universities. To quote one instance only of a really great man. It is related in a biography of the late Lord Kelvin that, having become enamoured, he joined his college boat at Cambridge and thenceforth was able to think and talk of nothing else but the races. Apart from the fascination of rowing, there are the lessons it teaches of self-reliance, determination and discipline. Before a crew is chosen, its members have had to prove their watermanship and their mettle, not only in muscle but in devotion to their cause, which is to win if possible, but at any rate to train punctiliously so that the product may be the fullest effort of eight men pulling in harmony. Rowing in its proper form is the application of scientific principles, requiring the attention both of mind and body. Those who have never indulged in it cannot perhaps appreciate the glorious sensation felt by a crew of sturdy souls as they lift their boat in unison, struggling with rivals alongside for every inch of waterway. The value of the effort cannot be measured by the actual success achieved as between competing crews. There is something elevating to the character of individuals who are entrusted with the duty of making an earnest attempt to serve a communal purpose.

Of other pastimes, all good in their way, one word as to athletic sports, concerning which periodical squibs are fired off

« VorigeDoorgaan »