ContentsMy first schoolmaster ,
"Preter pluperfect tense" ,
The "penny pig" ,
Country picnics ,
Pupil at the High School ,
Dislike of Latin ,
Love of old buildings ,
Their masonry ,
Sir Walter Scott ,
"The Heart of Midlothian" ,
John Linnell ,
The collecting period ,
James Watt ,
My father's workshop ,
Make peeries, cannon, and "steels" ,
School friendships ,
Paterson's ironfoundry ,
His foremen ,
Johnie Syme ,
Tom Smith and chemical experiments ,
Kid gloves and technical knowledge
BEFORE I went to school it was my good fortune to be placed under the special care of my eldest sister, jane. She was twenty years older than myself, and had acquired much practical experience in the management of the younger members of the family. I could not have had a more careful teacher. She initiated me into the difficulties of A B C, and by learning me to read she gave me a key to the thoughts of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived.
But all this was accomplished at first in a humdrum and tentative way. About seventy years ago children's books were very uninteresting. In the little stories manufactured for children, the good boy ended in a Coach-and-four, and the bad boy in a ride to Tyburn. The good boys must have been a set of little snobs and prigs, and I could scarcely imagine that they could ever have lived as they were represented in these goody books. If so, they must have been the most tiresome and uninteresting vermin that can possibly be imagined. After my sister had done what she could for me, I was sent to school to learn "English." I was placed under the tuition of a leading teacher called Knight, whose school-room was in the upper storey of a house in George Street. Here I learned to read with ease. But my primitive habit of spelling by ear, in accordance with the simple sound of the letters of the alphabet (phonetically, so to speak) brought me into collision with my teacher. I got many a cuff on the side of the head , and many a "palmy" on my hands with a thick strap of hard leather, which did not give me very inviting views as to the pleasures of learning. The master was vicious and vindictive. I think it a cowardly way to deal with a little boy in so cruel a manner, and to send him home with his back and fingers tingling and sometimes bleeding, because he cannot learn so quickly as his fellows.
On one occasion Knight got out of temper with my stupidity or dulness in not comprehending something about 'a preter-pluperfect tense,' or some mystery of that sort. He seized me by the ears, and beat my head against the wall behind me with such savage violence that when he let me go, stunned and unable to stand, I fell forward on the floor bleeding violently at the nose, and with a terrific headache. The wretch might have ruined my brain for life. I was carried home and put to bed, where I lay helpless for more than a week. My father threatened to summon the teacher before the magistrates for what might have been a fatal assault on poor little me; but on making a humble apology for his brutal usage he was let off. Of course I was not sent back to his school. I have ever since entertained a hatred against grammatical rules.
There was at that time an excellent system of teaching young folks the value of thrift. This consisted in saving for some purpose or another the Saturdays penny -- one penny being our weekly allowance of pocket-money. The feats we could perform in the way of procuring toys, picture-books, or the materials for constructing flying kites, would amaze the youngsters of the present day, who are generally spoiled by extravagance. And yet we obtained far more pleasure from our purchases. We had in my time "penny pigs," or thrift boxes. They were made in a vase form, of brown glazed earthenware, the only entrance to which was a slit -- enough to give entrance to a penny. When the Saturday's penny was not required for any immediate purposes, it was dropped through the slit, and remained there until the box was full. The maximum of pennies it could contain was about forty-eight. When that was accomplished, the penny pig was broken with a hammer, and its rich contents flowed forth. The breaking of the pig was quite an event. The fine fat old George the Third penny pieces looked thoroughly substantial in our eyes. And then there was the spending of the money,-- for some long-looked-for toy, or pencils, or book, or painting materials.
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