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Subject: ‘Education’

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Classics from the golden age of children’s literature

Posted in Adventure, Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Literature on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

This edited article about Victorian children’s books first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.

Characters in children's books,  picture, image, illustration
Some familiar characters from children's story books

If you had been a child in the ‘nineties whose parents were not poor, it is almost certain you would have received from some kindly aunt at Christmas a copy of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ by a woman named Frances Hodgson Burnett. And you would have been duly impressed by the good behaviour of this golden-haired little gentleman in the velvet suit and lace collar who called his widowed American mother ‘Dearest,’ found himself heir to an English Earldom and eventually melted the heart of his grandfather, a crusty old Earl who hated everybody and everything.

‘Fauntleroy’ would produce in the average youngster of today, the urge to give him a good kick on the seat of his velvet pants. But he was no joke to the late Victorians whose small boys were rigged out in ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ suits, and to whom the little chap’s winning ways and practical compassion for the so called ‘Lower orders’ were wholly admirable. ‘Fauntleroy,’ in fact, was a symbol of the feeling among certain of the upper classes to be more kindly to those less fortunate than themselves.

Even so, the Victorian child who was ready to take an uplifting lesson from ‘Fauntleroy’ might secretly have preferred F. Anstey’s ‘Vice Versa’ in which, by magic means, the schoolboy son of an unspeakably pompous Papa is able to change places with the parent who, pompous as ever, finds that school is not exactly the happy place to which he imagined he had sent his lad.

The school, of course, was one where children of the upper classes often had a worse time of it than those in the State or Church schools. Rugby was not exactly a bed of roses in 1857 when Thomas Hughes published ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays,’ the greatest Public School story of that century, if not of all time. Like most Victorian school yarns there was a message and a moral. Young Tom’s arrival at Rugby coincided with that of its new Headmaster, the famous Dr Arnold. But the old order of bullying among the senior boys still prevailed. The odious Flashman was a cad, far more villainous than the cads of Greyfriars and St Jims, those two wholly imaginary schools immortalized in the Magnet and the Gem, which gave so much pleasure to your fathers.

Within a year of Tom Brown’s days at Rugby, a clergyman, Dean Farrar, produced a school tale of quite a different kind. ‘Eric or Little by Little,’ the tale of a boy whose forthright and delicate young nature falls under evil influences, including that of the Demon Drink, is almost laughable today. The good Dean preached a typically Victorian sermon which brought tears to the eyes of its readers because it contained an abundance of deaths, including those of Eric’s nearest and dearest relatives and his closest school friend and finally – no doubt to the relief of many readers – of himself.

What real tear-jerkers were some of the writers for children in the second half of the 19th Century, after the Great Exhibition of 1851 had trumpeted ‘Progress’ to the world, and social reform was doing its best to improve the appalling conditions of the working classes. A certain lady who wrote under the initials A.L.O.E. – ‘A Lady of England’ – saw the sadness of the London poor through, of all things, a family of rats. Rats, despised by everybody, were shown to be loyal, generous and family minded to a degree, and quite incapable of what horrified them in their dockland warehouse – man’s inhumanity to man. ‘The Rambles of a Rat’ is a true Victorian curiosity. And let’s not forget perhaps the greatest ‘weepie’ of them all – ‘Frogg’s Little Brother,’ published in 1871.

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Sweatshops and child labour provided for the hungry poor

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, London, Philanthropy on Friday, 14 February 2014

This edited article about Victorian Britain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 552 published on 12 August 1972.

Sweatshop,  picture, image, illustration
A sweatshop of seamstresses by Ken Petts

“Food, glorious food” sang the raggle-taggle chorus of stage starvelings in Lionel Bart’s famous and tuneful musical, “Oliver,” based on Charles Dickens’s attack on life among the early Victorian poor, “Oliver Twist.”

Dickens exaggerated nothing – the bread-line shame of Parish Relief, the wretched conditions of the Poor Houses, Lodging Houses and Workhouses, the “Thieves’ Kitchens” in which stray children of the streets were taught to pick pockets. Had you been one such you would have been barefoot, pale-faced, crafty, unschooled, unloved and unwanted. Even had you the doubtful distinction of living not in a Public Institution, but at home, with your father bringing home ¬£1 a week as an unskilled labourer, your weekly ration of food would have consisted of adulterated tea, oatmeal, potatoes, bread, bacon maybe once a week and possibly a slice of boiled mutton on high days and holidays.

Skilled men who had been able to apprentice themselves to a trade, or even the unskilled, sweating out their twelve-hour days in mills, mines or factories, were not quite so badly off. But, for all the wealth, comfort and ostentation of the new middle-classes of Victorian Britain, about one-third of the population was grindingly poor. Well-meaning reformers, as the Victorian reign pressed on to the glittering shop-window of the Great Exhibition and after, pointed out that there were far more poor per head of the population in the 1840′s than in the 1880′s.

Maybe, answered more realistic social historians, but by these 1880′s, the population had swelled, and the numbers of the poor were far greater.

Thirty million people lived in late Victorian Britain, and of these one-third, some ten million, existing principally in the cities, scratched a subsistence of between twenty to twenty-five shillings a week.

They were known as the, “court and alley” people, principally because they lived in the back-street burrows of London and the back-to-back houses of the industrial North, well out of sight of the well-to-do who fooled themselves that if you couldn’t see them they weren’t there.

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Lord Shaftesbury epitomised philanthropy and humanity

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Philanthropy, Politics on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about Lord Shaftesbury first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 545 published on 24 June 1972.

Lord Shaftesbury,  picture, image, illustration
The Earl of Shaftesbury exploring the slums of London in 1840

Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in 1801 into a rich and powerful family. His childhood however was a very unhappy one.

Apart from controlling their children by the use of very harsh discipline, his parents took little interest in Anthony and his brothers and sisters. This unhappy home life and the miserable time he spent at a Chiswick boarding school helped to make him compassionate to all those who suffered.

Anthony’s only friend as a young child was his parents’ housekeeper, Maria Millis, who taught him the meaning of affection and implanted in him the seeds of the religious faith which was to stay with him always.

When he was 12 he went to Harrow School and an incident which he witnessed in the town made him resolved to help the poor in any way that he could. He was out walking one day when he saw a funeral procession coming towards him – a pauper’s funeral. The men who carried the coffin were drunk and singing bawdy songs and at one stage actually dropped the coffin. “Good Heavens! Can this be permitted simply because the man was poor and friendless?” was Anthony’s angry reaction.

In 1826 Anthony Ashley Cooper entered Parliament and it was not long before he was asked to serve on a committee to enquire into the treatment of lunatics. He made an impassioned plea for the House for a better life for the people in these places who were treated more like dangerous beasts than human beings. M.P.’s were so moved and horrified that the Government appointed Commissioners to inspect all asylums in the country and in a few years these were much more humane institutions.

In 1828 the Duke of Wellington appointed Cooper to the India Board. His most notable achievement while serving on this Board was to secure the abolition of the repellent Hindu custom of “Suttee,” by which a widow traditionally threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and was burned with him.

While at the India Board Anthony met and married Emily Cowper. “Minny” was to prove his greatest ally in his reforming work during their 42 years of happy marriage.

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Dr Arnold of Rugby crushed the school bullies

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Religion on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about education first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 544 published on 17 June 1972.

Dr Arnold,  picture, image, illustration
Dr Arnold of Rugby

In the early part of the nineteenth-century the education received by boys at public schools was rather poor. The subjects taught, the classics, a little maths, and English were usually badly taught. Due largely to the shortage of masters and the lack of interest which they showed in both the pupils and the running of the schools the conditions under which the boys lived were extremely brutal. Small or timid boys were victimised by the bullies who thrived in such an environment. Drunkenness, rebellion and terrorism of the local inhabitants were common.

The man who did most to reform the public school system was Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby from 1828-1842 who had had first-hand experience of public school life when a pupil at Winchester.

From an early age Thomas decided that he wanted to become a parson. After Winchester he went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he obtained his degree. Shortly afterwards he was made a Fellow of Oriel College and four years later was ordained a deacon as a first step to becoming a priest. But he began to have doubts that this was his true vocation and he now had to decide upon another career.

Thomas’s brother-in-law and Oxford friend, the Rev John Buckland, ran a small school at his Hampton vicarage and was keen to start a larger school. He needed someone to be in charge of the older boys and he offered the job to Thomas. By the autumn of 1819 two houses had been rented at the village of Laleham and Arnold’s career as a schoolmaster began.

Arnold resolved to run his school on humane and Christian lines. He wanted to be a friend to his pupils – a novel idea at the time! He expected hard work from his boys but was patient and sympathetic with his less able pupils. He taught geography and history as well as the usual subjects and did all he could to make lessons interesting. When school was over he would go bird nesting or bathing with the boys. In the evenings the pupils were invited to the Arnolds’ private sitting-room for a meal and a game of chess or chat. In this way Arnold gained their respect and affection and influenced them to follow his example of a Christian life. His years at Laleham were very happy ones.

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The historian Jean Froissart was private secretary to Queen Philippa of England

Posted in Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Royalty on Monday, 9 December 2013

This edited article about history first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 484 published on 24 April 1971.

Froissart miniature, picture, image, illustration
Entrance of the Queen Isabeau of Bavaria into Paris from an illumination in Froissart's Chronicles

The beautiful eyes of Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward the Third of England, shone with delight when the usher announced her visitor.

“Master Froissart from Hainault!” she repeated. “And how fares the city of my birth?”

“Well, your majesty,” replied Jean Froissart. He was a bright, merry man; his smile lightened up his face above the sombre clergyman’s clothes he wore.

Queen Philippa had already heard much about her visitor, whose love of learning she shared abundantly, for it was she who founded Queen’s College at Oxford. And when Froissart began to show a liking for England and all things English, and wrote poems for the Queen about these things, she determined that he should remain in the country as her secretary.

Froissart’s life spanned 63 years of the 14th century, a period for which modern historians have nothing like the same amount of documents to learn from as they have for later centuries.

Before Froissart’s time, most of what we learn about the government of the land comes from studying the laws passed by Parliament, the papers in archives which tell of the rules made for commerce, of the money spent in the royal household, of the treaties made with foreign rulers.

To these we can add the chronicles which were written chiefly by monks, like Bede. But as most monks stayed quietly in their monasteries, they were inclined to write more what they heard from others than what they saw themselves.

Jean Froissart changed all this. He gave a new dimension to the happenings of his century by going about the Continent and recording what he saw at first hand as a kind of living history. Because his was a century of wars and battles, he comes down to us as the first war correspondent of the Middle Ages.

And what a reporter he was! Almost everyone who mattered in his century of immortal wars and battles was on friendly terms with Jean Froissart. The Black Prince; Guy de Chatillon, Earl of Blois; King David of Scotland; two great kings of England; the English court; the knights and counts and dukes of Europe were all his friends, and all their deeds went into his book of chronicles.

It was especially good for future generations that the shrewd Queen Philippa saw the worth of her secretary’s historical work, for she gave him money to travel to different countries in order to study and record their customs.

Thus Froissart went to Scotland and travelled there for six months, riding on horseback with his briefcase behind him, and a greyhound always following his horse. His next journey was to Wales, and later he left Britain and went travelling in Italy.

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Thomas Babington Macaulay – forgotten historian and neglected poet

Posted in Ancient History, Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Politics on Monday, 9 December 2013

This edited article about popular history first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 482 published on 10 April 1971.

On Tiber Bridge, picture, image, illustration
Horatius Cocles defending the Pons Sublicius over the Tiber as immortalised by Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, by James E McConnell

In the middle of the last century Thomas Macaulay, poet, essayist and a former Cabinet Minister, wrote to a friend: “I have at last begun my history book. I shall not be satisfied unless I produce something which shall, for a few days, supersede the latest fashionable novel on the tables of young ladies.”

To a Victorian, such a professed ambition must have seemed absurd. Nothing was then duller than history. Generations of writers had combined to make it the world’s most lacklustre subject. How then could Macaulay possibly hope to write history which would make young ladies give up their latest romantic novels?

Macaulay delivered the answer with his first part of the History of England on 29th November, 1848. In the next ten days the first edition of 3,000 copies was sold out. The Duke of Wellington was loud in Macaulay’s praise, and a body of workmen sent him a vote of thanks for having written history which the working man could understand for the first time.

Macaulay had pleased nearly everyone because he had the great quality of being one of the best story-tellers who ever lived. Today we can see nothing surprising that history should be made as entertaining as a novel. But in Macaulay’s time the case was very different.

Besides his undoubted literary ability, Macaulay achieved his success with great leavenings of small detail in his history. He hardly ever mentioned a site, a town, a castle, or a manor house, or rarely introduced even a minor character, without bringing in a picturesque anecdote, an association or a reminiscence which sparkles like a diamond in the narrative.

Macaulay’s detractors – and a popular man always has many – were some of the serious conservative historians whose chief complaint was that his work lacked depth. Macaulay, they said, did nothing to stir the deeper mind or the deeper feelings of his readers. His answer to that was that he was disinterested in philosophy.

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In the Eighteenth Century few schoolmasters and parents spared the rod

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History on Monday, 2 December 2013

This edited article about Eighteenth-century home life first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 473 published on 6 February 1971.

Queen Caroline beating her child, picture, image, illustration
The Duchess of Marlborough catches George II's German wife (Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach), beating one of her children, by Richard Hook

Any parent of any period in history before this century of ours would gasp with amazement if confronted with the parent-child relationship of today. Much of its free-and-easiness would appal them, particularly the latitude allowed to children by their parents – or, let’s face it, bluntly demanded by some children! The abundance of taken-for-granted sweets, crisps, ice-lollies; the accessibility of television; organised school-travel to faraway lands which were once available only to the very rich late teenager being taken upon the “Grand Tour.” Scout-camps, Guide-camps, Comprehensive Education for both sexes under the same roof. These aspects of our society would have seemed incredible to, say, the 18th or 19th century parents. What would have appeared most incredible would be the almost total absence of “discipline” in the sense that it was then understood.

“Never strike a child unless in anger,” wrote the author and playwright, George Bernard Shaw. Never strike a child at all is the practice of many today.

“Leave my house, and never darken my doors again,” might thunder a Victorian Papa, when dealing with some erring offspring of, say, 18 or more years of age.

Compare, indeed, your own childhood and your own home with that of the noble Scottish family of Balcarres in the 18th century. One of the daughters, Lady Anne Lindsay, later described her home as being “a sort of little Bastille, in every closet of which was to be found a culprit, some sobbing and repeating verbs, others eating their bread-and-water, some preparing themselves to be whipped.”

The Balcarres home was a shade exceptional, due to the near-savagery of Her Ladyship. She was the tyrant who overruled her husband’s protests of “Odsfish, Madam! You will break the spirit of my young troops. I will not have it so.”

But the spirit of the “young troops” was finally far from broken. It was an old shepherd who came rushing to Her Ladyship, crying, “all the young gentlemen and all the young ladies, and all the dogs are run away.”

The teller of this tale does not continue with what finally happened to the Balcarres children – and the dogs!

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In 1885 Lord Shaftesbury left England a far better place than he found it in 1801

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Philanthropy, Politics on Monday, 2 December 2013

This edited article about Victorian philanthropy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 473 published on 6 February 1971.

Lord Shaftesbury, picture, image, illustration
The Earl of Shaftesbury; exploring the slums of London, 1840

The ragged, freezing little children under the railway arch were huddled close together to obtain every little bit of warmth and protection from the rain-laden wind whistling through.

Footsteps made them cringe even closer and press back into the dark shadows. Was it a policeman come to drive them out into the night? Or a drunkard on his way home who would kick them if they got in his way?

One of the braver spirits dared to peep out – and heaved a sigh of relief. “It’s all right. It’s Mr. Shaftesbury.”

“Mr. Shaftesbury” – otherwise known as Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury – gazed sadly at this wretched group of humanity, most of them orphans, all of them homeless and destitute. He had brought food with him, little enough to go among so many, but they grabbed it gratefully.

But then beggars could not be choosers, and this was an age when so many poor children in the land were beggars, or filling their bellies with whatever they could steal.

But things had been worse. Not so many years earlier, at the beginning of the 19th century, these children might have been sent into factories and made to work 16 hours a day; or slave in the mines dragging coal tubs like animals; or forced to climb naked up chimneys.

Looking back, it seems incredible that anyone should have had to fight to have these vile practices abolished. Fortunately there have been few better fighters for suffering mankind than Lord Shaftesbury.

Born in 1801, the son of wealthy parents, young Anthony nevertheless had a miserable childhood. His father cared nothing for the lad and his sisters, and his mother was content to let him be brought up by the servants. Often in their rich London home he would go to bed hungry and lie awake shivering with the cold.

At the age of seven he was sent to boarding school. “I think there never was such a wicked school, before or since,” he wrote later. “The place was bad, wicked, filthy; and the treatment was starvation and cruelty.”

Is it any wonder that later he could take the cause of children so much to his heart?

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Riotous assembly occasionally took place at England’s public schools

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This edited article about education first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 463 published on 28 November 1970.

Riot at Rugby, picture, image, illustration
n 1797, troops were called in the quell rioting schoolboys at Rugby by Richard Hook

In 1797 a violent explosion blew in the study door of the Headmaster of the famous public school of Rugby. It had been preceded by the wholesale shattering of school windows, and it was followed by the burning of school furniture. The entire school was in a state of open riot. Boys, it was told, had broken the windows of a certain shopkeeper who had incurred their displeasure. When called upon by the Headmaster to pay for the damage they refused. An injustice had been done, and this had, claimed the boys, been settled by the breaking of the shop windows – and that was that.

The famous “Rugby Riot” only ended when the military were called for. Boys retreated to what is called “The Island,” and raised the drawbridge. But they were no match for the soldiers and finally surrendered. Ringleaders were flogged, some were expelled and others were given the choice.

The century then turned, and with it the recognition of the new-style Public Boarding School, fee-paying schools, schools for the sons of the wealthy, schools which were to become nurseries of privilege and not truly “Public” at all. All of “The Big Nine,” as they were called, were old foundations under old-time patronage. Now they changed, “they” being – Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Rugby, Harrow, Shrewsbury, Charterhouse, St. Paul’s and the Merchant Taylors’.

At Westminster pupils sat on rising tiers of benches against the side wall of the enormous main room.

At the end of this great hall was a wide, arched and rounded recess, called “The Shell” and it contained a class of boys who were the “transit class” between the lower and the upper schools. “The Shell” of Westminster became in time “The Shell” of nearly every other public school. At Greyfriars and St. Jim’s, immortalised in the Magnet and the Gem, it was the Shell in the case of St. Jim’s and the Remove in that of Greyfriars which contained the pith of the interesting boys.

In their earlier days the great public schools were not all that they were cracked up to be. Education was sound with the accent on classics, but conditions were very tough. “Fagging” was almost universal, small boys being almost literally the servants of the seniors whose bawling of “Fa-a-a-a-g” from their studies sent the juniors scampering to avoid being the last to arrive. The last was frequently beaten.

The idea of “fagging” was originally meant to teach youngsters the virtue of service, and to give older ones the sense of authority and responsibility. But “fagging” was more generally abused than exercised fairly.

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Rote-learning and cruelty were the twin methods adopted by many Victorian schools

Posted in Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This edited article about education first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 462 published on 21 November 1970.

Whackford Squeers, picture, image, illustration
Whackford Squeers, who ran an appalling school in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby by Richard Hook


Which would you rather receive – a short, sharp birching, write out “A Hundred Lines,” or wear around your neck for a whole day one of the derogatory notices like those printed above? Some of these notices, by the way, were neither printed nor written, but were worked in beautiful stitching by girl pupils in the schools run under what was called the Lancastrian Principle in the early 1800s.

Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, was a powerful force in education in his times. To attend a Lancastrian School for children of the poorer classes the parents paid fourpence per week per child. In the main – and only – great classroom of each of these schools there hung a picture of King George III entitled: “The Patron of Education and Friend of the Poor.” That Monarch, before he went mad, had the sane goodwill to support Lancaster.

There’s no doubt that Joseph Lancaster was a good and thoughtful man who cut down on expense by employing no paid “masters,” but Monitors, older boys who were presumed to be bright enough to pass on, parrot-fashion, the Master’s own teachings. It must have been unbelievably dull, but in a dreary, rule-of-thumb sort of way it worked. There was no official corporal punishment in Lancaster’s schools, but, in addition to the odious labels hung around the necks of offenders, they might be shackled together for a day, or even, in extreme cases, hung from the roof in sacks.

Cleanliness – and very properly – was one of Lancaster’s first principles. Any boy coming to school visibly unwashed had to suffer the ignominy of being publicly scrubbed clean by, of all things – a girl! Public ridicule is, perhaps, the worst of all punishments. Doubtless Joseph Lancaster considered that a private whacking tended to create heroes, and he wasn’t far wrong.

The Lancastrian idea took over, as it were, from where the 18th-century schools of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge had fallen into decline. The S.P.C.K. was very worthy and very Christian. It was free, it was pious and it handed out at least one free meal. It taught the Catechism, the Bible, spelling and legible handwriting in what was known as “Copper-plate.” It was strong on “manners,” but it finally fell apart through dissensions within, and the drift into the towns and cities from the more rural areas, where most of the 1,600 S.P.C.K. schools were situated.

And what about girls in all this? In the Dame Schools there they were, mixed up with the little boys. They could attend both the S.P.C.K. Schools and the Lancastrian Schools. But schools entirely for girls? They were a long time coming. After all, what was the use of learning for the sex whose only job in life was to be cooking, cleaning and mothering hordes of children? That girls should get any enjoyment from education and the enriching of life which it provided was too ludicrous for words!

That was – unless you were to be a “young lady of fashion” learning the young-ladylike accomplishments – deportment, decorum, sewing, dancing and making mild music. In fact, let’s face it, there were two societies, a handful of rich and a sackful of poor. It’s not surprising that the rich got the best of it – they could pay!

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