The Boarding School: Familiar conversations between a governess and her pupils.
Those persons whose time is devoted to the instruction of youth, have not only abundant opportunities of ascertaining the capacities of their pupils, but of observing their various dispositions, and of noticing the effects which have been produced on them by previous habit and example. It seldom happens that amiability of temper, respectful behaviour to superiors, or kindness to inferiors, distinguish children who in their infancy have been left to the care of menials, or who have been suffered, by the blind indulgence of parents, to gratify their forward inclinations; and it as rarely occurs that those who have had the benefit of good example and parental admonition in the “bud of life,” display much propensity to vice as they grow up, unless their morals become contaminated by afterwards forming improper companions. With reference to the effects of early education, it has been most truly said, that
“Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclin’d.”
And though a variety of causes may operate to form the character, or give a bias to the mind, it is a fact not to be controverted, that early impressions are never wholly eradicated, and the magic of some well remembered maxim or parental caution will often come very seasonably to the aid of the most experienced.
In pourtraying the characters which are introduced in “The Boarding School,” the Author has endeavoured to represent, by contrast, the amiable and unamiable passions; and, by exhibiting them in their true colours, to render her fair and youthful readers as emulous to imitate the one, as they will doubtless be to avoid the other; while the narrative, being of the most familiar kind, will, it is hoped, contribute to their amusement.
Elizabeth Adair was stooping to prop a rose-tree in a viranda, when she hastily turned to her sister, and exclaimed, “it is useless attending either to plants or flowers now: I must give up all my favourite pursuits.”
“But you will have others to engage your attention,” returned Jane.
“And will they afford me pleasure? You may as well say that I shall listen with joy to the foolish commands of some parents, and the haughty remarks of others.”
“Let this be our comfort,” said Jane, “sensible people always treat the instructors of youth with respect; they neither command with pride, nor complain with insolence.”
“But think of the change! We, who have had every indulgence, and no cares to perplex us!”
“My dear Elizabeth, in the day of prosperity we seldom rejoice with thankfulness; but in the time of adversity, when our path is darkened, then we can bitterly repine. Surely we should place our joys and our sorrows against each other, as a defence from a murmuring spirit.”
“It is not late trials that trouble me, but future vexations that I dread. You know that I have never been accustomed to stupid, drawling, spoiled children.”
“I hope,” said Jane, “you will not have a class of this description to instruct.”
“O, all things will be easy to you, for you love children and love teaching; but I have never applied my mind to any thing of the kind: I shall not know how to ask the most simple question in nature.”
Jane smiled, as she said, “Since you are so very doubtful of your abilities, I think I will give a short lesson upon teaching. Suppose you ask your pupil if she has learned grammar: if she replies in the affirmative, desire her to explain the nature of the different parts of speech. Then try her abilities in the arithmetical tables, or from the history of England; tell her to relate some particular event in the reign of one of our kings, and go on to other subjects in a similar manner. In the first instance, however, always hear your pupil read; clear, distinct reading, with proper emphasis—I do not mean in a theatrical style—is one test of abilities; give her some pointed passage from history, or from any suitable book.”
“I want an example,” said Elizabeth.
“Now, sister, you are trifling, and will lead me to trifle in return.”
“In 1199 John signed Magna Charta, the bulwark of English liberty;” or, “the king wept when he found himself a prisoner; but the master of Glamis said—”
“Go on, my dear Jane: the master of Glamis I will not have any thing to say to.”
“You forget,” said Jane, “that we are not to finish a sentence with to, or for, or any word so insignificant. Let a little girl read, ‘remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,’ or something in the same easy, impressive style. But consult my mother: she will give you the best information upon the subject of teaching.”
“Ah,” said Elizabeth, “my spirits fail when I think of the task! I only wish the first week were over.”
“It will pass away like all other things. We have only to be resolute in doing our duty, and leave the rest to Providence. Let us at all times remember our own excellent instructress: her ‘authority, when most severe, and mustering all its force, was but the graver countenance of love, watering at once and nourishing the plant.’”
It will, perhaps, here be necessary to say something of Mrs. Adair; I will not, however, enter upon her motive for opening a boarding-school. It is a well known fact that the loss of fortune, contracted incomes, or troubles in one shape or another, are the origin of almost all female seminaries. I never heard but of one lady beginning a school, and persevering to the conclusion of a protracted life, without any motive but benefiting a friend. To her credit let me remark, that she never regretted this, as it may justly be styled, “labour of love.”
Mrs. Adair’s personal appearance and manner were calculated to excite respect and deference from pupils. The general cast of her countenance was serious, to a degree bordering upon severity; but when she did unbend, the cheerfulness that beamed in her features, and the benevolent expression of her dark and pleasing eyes, invited confidence and regard from every beholder. She had been a widow several years, and was going to commence a school patronized by respectable friends. I shall not attempt to describe her daughters, for beauty is of so perishable a nature, and of so little value without good qualities, it is but time wasted dwelling on the subject. Jane, the youngest, had been some time in a delicate and declining state of health; and, viewing life as uncertain in its tenor, had wisely adapted her mind to passing circumstances. Next to her brightest hopes, was her desire to be useful whilst she remained upon earth.
Elizabeth had high health and spirits, and could ill brook the idea of the restraint and confinement of a school. But the evening was now arrived previous to beginning “the irksome task,” as she styled it.
Mrs. Adair had been looking over her folio, and her daughters were seated at their work, when she observed, “We may consider ourselves particularly fortunate, for I have now the promise of fifteen pupils. Several things, however, we must take into consideration. Elizabeth, you are sometimes a little petulant in temper: remember you must never be rash in deciding, or hasty in punishing; curb the bold, but encourage the timid. We must likewise be cautious to treat the parents of every child with equal respect; not allow ourselves to be dazzled with glittering equipages, or dashing manners. And let us be tender and careful of children who are deprived of a mother: give them all the aid in our power, to make them a credit to their father’s house.”
“And I think, my dear mother,” said Elizabeth, “it will be necessary to fix children of weak capacities in one class: let all the dunces go together.”
“But we must first weigh their talents justly,” returned Mrs. Adair; “and always recollect, that ‘children of the present age are the hope of the one to come.’
“There is one thing I particularly charge you to avoid: never speak in a tone of ridicule of any lady who has previously instructed a pupil; there is something contemptible in trying to depreciate the talents of another. We are not to consider ourselves as supreme in wisdom, for our abilities are moderate; if we can do good, I believe it is the chief merit we can claim.”
“I hope one thing,” said Elizabeth, “that the young ladies must never be allowed to learn their lessons at meals; for I am persuaded they will think more of the present participle loving than of declining the verb to love. And I trust likewise, my dear mother, that you will never let them read their own themes at public examinations: for the voice I am certain will tremble when hundreds are listening.”
“We will not talk of public examinations, my dear, until we have tried our own abilities at teaching. But I must caution you never to criticize letters from parents or friends; nor look upon a teacher as a solitary being, without friends and without feelings.”
“I hope you do not think I would exact too much, or be unreasonable in any command to a teacher,” said Elizabeth.
“I do not say that you will do so; I only wish to remind you, that we should have due consideration for those persons who are dependent upon us. And now I have only to observe, that we must not think entirely of the time our pupils are to be with us, but extend our thoughts to the period when they will be enabled to judge by what spirit we were actuated. In teaching, punishing, or rewarding, let us always consider whether the means we then pursue will be useful to the young lady in future life.”
Elizabeth with some degree of impatience stood at the drawing-room window, looking for their first pupil, on the morning the school was opened. At length a carriage drove hastily to the door, and she returned to her seat.
With a flushed and agitated countenance she had now to welcome one of her mother’s earliest friends. Colonel Vincent advanced into the room with two daughters, and in a cheerful tone exclaimed, “I hope, my dear Miss Adair, we are your first scholars; we have strained every nerve to surprise you with an early visit, and an auspicious one I hope it will prove.”
“I hope so too, Sir,” said Elizabeth quickly; “but I thought we should have had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Vincent.”
“She was obliged to go down into the country to visit her father,” returned the Colonel, “and deputed me to act for her. I have to beg that you will treat our children as the children of strangers: reward them with favour when they are good, and punish them when they are otherwise. We have confidence in our friends, therefore shall never listen to any idle tales; but my little girl,” he continued, as he fondly stroked the hair from the forehead of his youngest daughter, “will I know be tractable and very good.”
“That I will, Papa; only I wish I had my doll, and the cradle. My cousin Eliza has a barrel-organ, a garden-chair, and I don’t know how many things, at her school.”
“Your cousin has a large fortune, and is a simpleton,” cried Caroline, the eldest daughter. “But pray, ma’am, who is to teach music?”
“I shall make the attempt,” said Elizabeth; “how far I shall succeed will depend upon my abilities to instruct, and your patience and perseverance in gaining instruction.”
“O, ma’am, I have learned seven years of the first masters.”
“There has been a wonderful waste of time, and money!” cried the Colonel. “You rattle the keys, as blundering soldiers when commanded to fire: no taste, feeling, or judgment in the execution.”
“But at Madame La Blond’s, Papa, I was allowed to play in the very first style, and was always called upon to exhibit to strangers.”
A servant at this moment announced “Mrs. Towers;” and a stately female, dressed in the extreme of fashion, with a measured step entered the room, followed by a delicate, interesting looking young lady, but with a very dark complexion. Mrs. Towers moved very profoundly to Elizabeth. “Permit me to introduce Miss Arden as a pupil,” she said. “She is from the East, and under our guardianship. For certain causes we removed her from her last seminary; we did not consider it (as she is a young lady of large fortune) sufficiently fashionable. As we understand Colonel Vincent, a man whom every one must applaud, has declared that he and his noble lady will patronize Mrs. Adair, from this circumstance alone I have brought Miss Arden hither.”
Colonel Vincent smiled, and stepped to the window to converse with his youngest daughter. “It is particularly unfortunate, ma’am,” added Mrs. Towers, “that the young lady has so very dark a look; but I assure you she is not a creole.” Tears started into Miss Arden’s eyes, and her cheeks were tinged with a deep blush. Mrs. Towers now made another very low curtsey, with “a good morning, ma’am; I have several visits to pay in this neighbourhood.” As she passed the young lady, she whispered something respecting mixture and composition.
Colonel Vincent now led his daughters to Miss Arden. “Let me introduce the young people to each other,” said he; “who I hope will be friends and pleasant companions.”
Isabella, his youngest daughter, looked up in her face; and taking her hand, said, “I am sure I shall love this lady, if she will love me.”
Her sister turned her head, and with a scornful smile exclaimed, “You are always taken with strangers! I wish Miss Russel would come! I thought she would have been here early.”
“This is an insolent young lady,” said the Colonel, looking at his daughter with displeasure. “But my Isabella, Miss Arden, will be grateful for your kindness.”
“I have so few, Sir, to regard me,” said Miss Arden, “that I shall indeed be happy to gain the love of this little girl.”
Elizabeth now asked if she would walk in the garden. “Come, my little pet,” said the Colonel, “give me one kiss; and go with this young lady, and try to divert her. And do not forget to bring her with you the first holiday, and we will have a merry day; all your young friends shall be invited to meet you.”
In the course of the morning most of the young ladies arrived. It was a complete day of bustle. There were trunks and packages to be removed from the hall into the dressing-room; then one wanted her reticule, and another a book from her bag; and a third was searching her basket for good things, either for her own private eating, or to give to some one to whom she had taken a fancy. Then there were so many conjectures, “who and who such ladies were?” Miss Vincent and Miss Russel, who were declared friends, kept apart from their companions. There were few, indeed, they would deign to notice; and no one, unless her Papa had a carriage. There was an air of scorn in their countenances, which seemed to say, “here is a motley group, indeed!”
Jane had been confined to her chamber the whole of the morning, but in the afternoon strolled into the garden to converse with the young ladies. She soon felt fatigued, and went into the summer-house to rest. There, to her surprise, she beheld a young lady with a melancholy aspect, seated, with her eyes fixed intently upon the floor.
“My dear, why are you here alone?” asked Jane in a tone of kindness; “was there no young lady to walk with you?”
“No, ma’am; the ladies do not wish to associate with me. They object to my complexion: and, I believe, they think that I am without feelings. The little girl would have remained with me, but her sister would not allow her.”
A loud laugh now proclaimed a party approaching the summer-house. Jane was shocked when she heard Miss Vincent exclaim, “Oh, do come in and behold her! she is a complete creole! I never saw so frightful a complexion!”
“The young lady is a stranger to me,” said another, “and I am sure I would not insult her upon any account.”
“That is a voice I know,” said Jane, stepping to the door. “My dear Miss Damer, I wish to speak to you.” Miss Vincent and her friend instantly retreated, and the young lady entered the summer-house with a blushing face.
“Here is a young lady,” said Jane, “who is a stranger; and I may add, that she is in a strange land. In introducing her to you, Miss Damer, I hope I am securing a friend for her: one who will not behold her insulted.”
Tears now rushed from Miss Arden’s eyes. “O! ma’am, I cannot thank you as I feel! Hitherto, I have only known rudeness and unkindness! When I lost my father, I thought, in coming to England—England, so famed for every thing great and noble—that I should be a stranger to all sorrow but that of remembrance.”
Miss Damer was too much moved to express herself as she wished. “Come,” said Jane, in a cheerful voice, “we must not have sorrow at this our first meeting. I perceive that Miss Damer and you will be friends, so come with me; you shall be my guests this evening, and we will leave the other young ladies to my sister.”
With a countenance expressive of kindness, Jane took an arm of each of the young ladies, and walked with them up the garden. As she passed Miss Vincent and her companion, she said very quietly, “Young ladies, I hope you will conduct yourselves better to-morrow.”
When Miss Vincent entered the music-room to receive her first lesson, with haughty indifference she seated herself at the piano, and in a careless manner began a voluntary. Elizabeth, who was reading a letter, now closed it, leisurely opened a book, and desired her to play the lesson to which she pointed.
“This piece, ma’am! Gravana thinks English music despicable.”
“And English manners, I presume?”
“Manners, ma’am! Madame La Blond’s was a fashionable seminary.”
“And what is fashion, my dear?”
“Oh, nothing—nothing, ma’am, but doing as we please: we seldom saw Madame except in evening parties.”
“Then to whom were you indebted for instruction?”
“To our masters, ma’am,” said Miss Vincent, in a tone of surprise. “At Madame La Blond’s we were instructed in all the sciences; in the nature of valves; the specific gravity of bodies; the astonishing properties of magnetic steel; and how many thousand miles the sun was from the earth.”
“And perhaps you were told, by what means Archimedes burned the ships of Marcellus, at the siege of Syracuse?”
“O no, ma’am; but we learned the art of memorizing by hieroglyphics. This formed a part of our morning exercises.”
“Pray, my dear,” said Elizabeth very gravely, “can you repeat the multiplication table throughout?”
Miss Vincent hesitated. “I know very little, ma’am, of figures: our studies were in general of the highest order. But it was a charming seminary! We had no particular rules; we could go to rest, or rise when we pleased; and favourites were always asked to dance with select parties in an evening.”
“I seriously regret,” said Elizabeth, “that we have robbed Madame La Blond of so amiable a pupil.”
“Madame, I assure you, ma’am, lamented it. She told Papa I was the chief ornament of her school. But he was very angry,—I don’t know why; but he questioned me so closely, that I might as well have been before a court-martial. Indeed I am certain he would have ordered me, had I been a private soldier, to the triangle, merely because I said that Madame despised people in trade.”
“And your Papa really vindicated trade!”
“Oh, ma’am, the Colonel has strange plebeian notions. I never saw him so angry as he was when I told him that we—I mean ladies of a certain rank—had been the means of sending a merchant’s daughter from school, by styling her ‘Miss Thimbleton,’ and ‘the little seamstress.’ Her mamma had the meanness, I may say the impertinence, to send vulgar check muslin to be made into a frock, at Madame La Blond’s! We took care, however, to break the needles, and burn the thread.”
“I hope you have finished your remarks: be pleased, now, to listen to me. In consequence of the close intimacy that exists between our families, I pass over your presuming manner this morning; but recollect,” said Elizabeth with firmness, “that it shall never be repeated. If you dare to disobey, expect punishment. From this time you are never to speak to me, unless I ask a question. Now play the lesson I proposed.”
Mrs. Adair had selected from the first class four young ladies, to regulate the younger pupils. They were to hear them repeat their lessons before they entered the school-room; they were likewise to mark the errors in their exercises, and endeavour, not only to instruct but amuse.
It has been said that by teaching others we gain knowledge ourselves. Miss Damer was fully aware of this truth; all her leisure time, therefore, was devoted to the young people under her care. She had only three, and they had very different abilities: Miss Bruce’s capacity was bright, but she loved to defer all to the last moment; there was a mixture of good sense and childishness in her character, and she was warm and impetuous. Isabella Vincent had moderate abilities, but a very persevering temper; whatever she had to learn, she laboured at it with her whole heart, and her disposition was placid and amiable. Miss Grey was a clever girl; she had been at an excellent school, and was proficient in most of the minor branches of education. She was fond of exercising her ingenuity to amuse her companions. One evening she had collected a party round her, intending to divert them with new grammatical exercises.
“Now, ladies,” she cried, as she held a paper in her hand, “are you all ready, all prepared to listen and to learn? Miss Isabella Vincent, what are you doing? I am certain you do not mean to attend.”
“If she will not attend,” said Miss Damer, stepping into the circle, “I am quite prepared—”
“Oh, Miss Damer, are you here?” cried Miss Bruce: “we shall have no fun now! I thought you were in the drawing-room.”
“Cheerfulness is one thing, fun another; but when they both come together, they are often noisy companions so we must do without them here.”
“But we did not think you would come to us this evening,” said Miss Grey. “Oh, do, Miss Damer, leave us to ourselves one half hour.”
“First let me read the paper you are trying to conceal.”
“You will only think it nonsense,” said Miss Grey; “but don’t be angry, I beg, for it was only for our diversion.”
Miss Damer began to read:
‘Mrs. Adair, substantive proper.’
“Very improper to take this liberty.” ‘Singular number, feminine gender, indicative mood, perfect tense; face, mind, and figure, in the superlative degree.—Miss Warner inclining to the acute accent.’
“But what is she?” asked Miss Damer.
“A noun proper, certainly, and of the singular number.”
‘Miss Cotton, demonstrative pronoun; compare good, and she is in the superlative degree.
‘Miss Hilton, voice semi-vowels; in the primitive order by nature, governed by a queer looking definite article.
‘Miss Vincent, manner the imperative mood; self, first person singular; mind, imperfect tense; eyes, positive; voice, in the superlative degree; nose, the interrogative point.
‘Miss Bruce, an interjection, or an interrogative.’
“True,” said Miss Damer, “particularly where books are concerned.”
“Well, I do love books!” said Miss Bruce; “I do think I could read every one in Mr. Chiswell’s shop without being tired. Have you a new one to lend me, Miss Damer?”
“If you say all your lessons well, and are good this week, I will lend you a very amusing and instructive tale.”
“But what is the title?” asked Miss Bruce.
“It is one word, meaning a mark of folly in young ladies. But I must finish the grammatical exercise.”
‘Miss Rothman, a section sufficiently curved.’
“You should not have made this remark, Miss Grey. When you ridicule deformity you shew a want of feeling; and, what is of more consequence, you prove that you treat with contempt the works of your Creator. Miss Rothman’s talents, and amiable temper, we cannot too highly prize.”
‘Miss Russel, an index to point out disagreeables; make her an article, and she will prove a bad one of the definite order.’
‘The little Rhymer, a brace; and Miss Wise, a verb neuter.
‘Miss Damer, auxiliary verb, or substantive proper; first person singular, face—’ Miss Darner stopped a moment, and then went on with, ‘Miss Jane Adair,—temper, syntax; consisting of concord and government; speech, a preposition; voice, liquids; face, mind, and figure, in the superlative degree; as the verb to be loved, second person singular, indicative mood, present tense, to myself and others. The remainder, excepting Miss Arden, may be classed with mutes, crotchets, irregular verbs, quotations, and parallels.’
“I wish,” cried Isabella, “I could write exercises, or a theme, or something, I don’t care what.”
“And what is to prevent you, my dear?”
“Oh, nothing at all, Miss Damer, if I could but tell what to write.”
“Tell how the world was made,” said Miss Bruce, “that would be a very good subject.”
“I cannot do that, I am sure! I do not know what stars are made of, they twinkle so; nor what makes flowers look so pretty, and smell so sweet; nor where the wind comes from, or what it is: it touches me, but I cannot touch it.”
“You have never read ‘Evenings at Home,’” said Miss Bruce, “or you would know that ‘wind is but a quantity of air put into violent motion.’”
“But what is the air? Tell me this.”
“A clear thin fluid, certainly, and the earth is a vast ball; it would soon break its bounds, were it not attracted by the sun.”
“But who preserves it in its regular motion?” asked Miss Damer.
“Oh, Miss Damer,” exclaimed Miss Bruce, “all the stars, and the moon, and the trees, and all that we behold had but one to make them, and one to support them—the Great Almighty Maker, who gave me my voice to speak, my mind to think, and my eyes to look at the wonders of his works.”
“I wish I knew how I speak, and look, and think,” said Isabella.
“My dear little girl,” said Miss Damer, “very wise people are ignorant in many things. Learn to be good: it is the best knowledge.”
“I do say my prayers every night and morning, and I’m sure I love papa and mamma dearly, and I try to love every body.”
“This is one way certainly to be good, if you obey your parents as well as love them, and think of your prayers when you are repeating them.”
“I am sure, Miss Damer, I should love you, you are so good. I never could learn my lessons without you assisted me.”
“Because you are a dunce,” said Miss Bruce.
“We shall see who will be the best girl and the best scholar, ‘the bright and idle one,’ or my little friend, with ‘patience and perseverance.’”
A carriage and four, as it is styled, stopping suddenly at the gate, caused a little bustle. Amongst Mrs. Adair’s pupils, some were ready to look, and others to exclaim, “who can they be?” “what a beautiful girl!” and “what a nice little boy! but I fear he is lame!” “Oh, look! do look at that queer old lady following them out of the carriage! How oddly her nose is turned! and what a droll bonnet!” “I wonder whether they will dine with us!” “I should like to know who they are.”
While these exclamations were uttered, Miss Vincent pursued other means of gaining intelligence of the new comers. She stole softly into the hall, and screened herself from observation, in a narrow passage leading to the store-room. The next moment she beheld a tall girl, an elderly lady, and a little boy ushered into the parlour. She listened to hear their names announced, but in vain. As she was returning to the school-room, the hall door was opened by Elizabeth. She hastily retreated into the passage: but betrayed herself by stumbling over a stand of plants, that had been placed there, till they could be conveniently removed.
Elizabeth, hearing the noise, quickly stepped towards the passage, and perceiving her pupil, said very coolly:
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