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A Busy Year at the Old Squire's
A Busy Year at the Old Squire's
MASTER PIERSON COMES BACK
MASTER JOEL PIERSON arrived the following Sunday afternoon, as he had promised in his letter of Thanksgiving Day eve, and took up his abode with us at the old Squire's for the winter term of school.
Cousin Addison drove to the village with horse and pung to fetch him; and the pung, I remember, was filled with the master's belongings, including his school melodeon, books and seven large wall maps for teaching geography. For Master Pierson brought a complete outfit, even to the stack of school song-books which later were piled on the top of the melodeon that stood in front of the teacher's desk at the schoolhouse. Every space between the windows was covered by those wall maps. No other teacher had ever made the old schoolhouse so attractive. No other teacher had ever entered on the task of giving us instruction with such zeal and such enthusiasm. It was a zeal, too, and an enthusiasm which embraced every pupil in the room and stopped at nothing short of enlisting that pupil's best efforts to learn.
Master Pierson put life and hard work into everything that went on at school — even into the old schoolhouse itself. Every morning he would be off from the old Squire's at eight o'clock, to see that the schoolhouse was well warmed and ready to begin lessons at nine; and if there had been any neglect in sweeping or dusting, he would do it himself, and have every desk and bench clean and tidy before school time.
What was more, Master Pierson possessed the rare faculty of communicating his own zeal for learning to his pupils. We became so interested, as weeks passed, that of our own accord we brought our school books home with us at night, in order to study evenings; and we asked for longer lessons that we might progress faster.
My cousin Halstead was one of those boys (and their name is Legion) who dislike study and complain of their lessons that they are too long and too hard. But strange to say, Master Joel Pierson somehow led Halse to really like geography that winter. Those large wall maps in color were of great assistance to us all. In class we took turns going to them with a long pointer, to recite the lesson of the day. I remember just how the different countries looked and how they were bounded — though many of these boundaries are now, of course, considerably changed.
When lessons dragged and dullness settled on the room, Master Joel was wont to cry, "Halt!" then sit down at the melodeon and play some school song as lively as the instrument admitted of, and set us all singing for five or ten minutes, chanting the multiplication tables, the names of the states, the largest cities of the country, or even the Books of the Bible. At other times he would throw open the windows and set us shouting Patrick Henry's speech, or Byron's Apostrophe to the Ocean. In short, "old Joel" was what now would be called a "live wire." He was twenty-two then and a student working his own way through Bates College. After graduating he migrated to a far western state where he taught for a year or two, became supervisor of schools, then State Superintendent, and afterwards a Representative to Congress. He is an aged man now and no word of mine can add much to the honors which have worthily crowned his life. None the less I want to pay this tribute to him — even if he did rub my ears at times and cry, "Wake up, Round-head! Wake up and find out what you are in this world for." (More rubs!) "You don't seem to know yet. Wake up and find out about it. We have all come into the world to do something. Wake up and find out what you are here for!" — and then more rubs!
It wasn't his fault if I never fairly waked up to my vocation — if I really had one. For the life of me I could never feel sure what I was for! Cousin Addison seemed to know just what he was going to do, from earliest boyhood, and went straight to it. Much the same way, cousin Theodora's warm, generous heart led her directly to that labor of love which she has so faithfully performed. As for Halstead, he was perfectly sure, cock-sure, more than twenty times, what he was going to do in life; but always in the course of a few weeks or months, he discovered he was on the wrong trail. What can be said of us who either have no vocation at all, or too many? What are we here for?
In addition to our daily studies at the schoolhouse, we resumed Latin, in the old sitting-room, evenings, Thomas and Catherine Edwards coming over across the field to join us. To save her carpet, grandmother Ruth put down burlap to bear the brunt of our many restless feet — for there was a great deal of trampling and sometimes outbreaks of scuffling there.
Thomas and I, who had forgotten much we had learned the previous winter, were still delving in Ęsop's Fables. But Addison, Theodora and Catherine were going on with the first book of Cęsar's Gallic War. Ellen, two years younger, was still occupied wholly by her English studies. Study hours were from seven till ten, with interludes for apples and pop-corn.
Halstead, who had now definitely abandoned Latin as something which would never do him any good, took up Comstock's Natural Philosophy, or made a feint of doing so, in order to have something of his own that was different from the rest of us. Natural philosophy, he declared, was far and away more important than Latin.
Memory goes back very fondly to those evenings in the old sitting-room, they were so illumined by great hopes ahead. Thomas and I, at a light-stand apart from the others, were usually puzzling out a Fable — The Lion, The Oxen, The Kid and the Wolf, The Fox and the Lion, or some one of a dozen others — holding noisy arguments over it till Master Pierson from the large center table, called out, "Less noise over there among those Latin infants! Cęsar is building his bridge over the Rhine. You are disturbing him."
Addison, always very quiet when engrossed in study, scarcely noticed or looked up, unless perhaps to aid Catherine and Theodora for a moment, with some hard passage. It was Tom and I who made Latin noisy, aggravated at times by pranks from Halstead, whose studies in natural philosophy were by no means diligent. At intervals of assisting us with our translations of Cęsar and the Fables, Master Pierson himself was translating the Greek of Demosthenes' Orations, and also reviewing his Livy — to keep up with his Class at College. But, night or day, he was always ready to help or advise us, and push us on. "Go ahead!" was "old Joel's" motto, and "That's what we're here for." He appeared to be possessed by a profound conviction that the human race has a great destiny before it, and that we ought all to work hard to hurry it up and realize it.
It is quite wonderful what an influence for good a wide-awake teacher, like Master Pierson, can exert in a school of forty or fifty boys and girls like ours in the old Squire's district, particularly where many of them "don't know what they are in the world for," and have difficulty in deciding on a vocation in life.
At that time there was much being said about a Universal Language. As there are fifty or more diverse languages, spoken by mankind, to say nothing of hundreds of different dialects, and as people now travel freely to all parts of the earth, the advantages of one common language for all nations are apparent to all who reflect on the subject. At present, months and years of our short lives are spent learning foreign languages. A complete education demands that the American whose mother tongue is the English, must learn French, German, Spanish and Italian, to say nothing of the more difficult languages of eastern Europe and the Orient. Otherwise the traveler, without an interpreter, cannot make himself understood, and do business outside his own country.
The want of a common means of communication therefore has long been recognized; and about that time some one had invented a somewhat imperfect method of universal speech, with the idea of having everybody learn it, and so be able to converse with the inhabitants of all lands without the well-nigh impossible task of learning five, or ten, or fifty different languages.
The idea impressed everybody as a good one, and enjoyed a considerable popularity for a time. But practically this was soon found to be a clumsy and inadequate form of speech, also that many other drawbacks attended its adoption.
But the main idea held good; and since that time Volapuk, Bolak, Esperanto and Ido have appeared, but without meeting with great success. The same disadvantages attend them, each and all.
In thinking the matter over and talking of it, one night at the old Squire's, that winter, Master Pierson hit on the best, most practical plan for a universal language which I have ever heard put forward. "Latin is the foundation of all the modern languages of Christendom," he said. "Or if not the foundation, it enters largely into all of them. Law, theology, medicine and philosophy are dependent on Latin for their descriptive terms. Without Latin words, modern science would be a jargon which couldn't be taught at all. Without Latin, the English language, itself, would relapse to the crude, primitive Saxon speech of our ancestors. No one can claim to be well educated till he has studied Latin.
"Now as we have need to learn Latin anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone, and make Latin our universal language? Why not have a colloquial, everyday Latin, such as the Romans used to speak in Italy? In point of fact, Latin was the universal language with travelers and educated people all through the Middle Ages. We need to learn it anyhow, so why not make it our needed form of common speech?"
I remember just how earnest old Joel became as he set forth this new idea of his. He jumped up and tore round the old sitting-room. He rubbed my ears again, rumpled Tom's hair, caught Catherine by both her hands and went ring-round-the-rosy with her, nearly knocking down the table, lamp and all! "The greatest idea yet!" he shouted. "Just what's wanted for a Universal Language!" He went and drew in the old Squire to hear about it; and the old Squire admitted that it sounded reasonable. "For I can see," he said, "that it would keep Latin, and the derivation of words from it, fresh in our minds. It would prove a constant review of the words from which our language has been formed.
"But Latin always looked to me rather heavy and perhaps too clumsy for every-day talk," the old gentleman remarked. "Think you could talk it?"
"Sure!" Master Pierson cried. "The old Romans spoke it. So can we. And that's just what I will do.
"I will get up a book of conversational Latin — enough to make a Common Language for every-day use." And in point of fact that was what old Joel was doing, for four or five weeks afterwards. He had Theodora and Catherine copy out page after page of it — as many as twenty pages. He wanted us each to have a copy of it; and for a time at least, he intended to have it printed.
A few days ago I came upon some of those faded, yellow pages, folded up in an old text book of Ęsop's Latin Fables — the one Tom and I were then using; and I will set down a few of the sentences here, to illustrate what Master Pierson thought might be done with Latin as a universal language.
Master Pierson's Universal Language in Latin, which he named Dic from dico, meaning to speak.
1 It is time to get up. = Surgendi tempus est.
2 The sun is up already. = Sol jamdudum ortus.
3 Put on your shoes. = Indue tibi ocreas.
4 Comb your head. = Pecte caput tuum.
5 Light a candle and build a fire = Accende lucernum, et facut luceat faculus.
6 Carry the lantern. We must water the horses. = Vulcanum in cornu geras. Equi aquatum agenda sunt.
7 It is a very hot day. = Dies est ingens ęstus.
8 Let's go to the barn. = Jam imus horreum.
9 Grind the axes. = Acuste ascias.
10 It is near twelve o'clock. = Instat hora duodecima.
11 It is time for dinner. = Prandenti tempus adest.
12 Please take dinner with = Quesso nobiscum hodie ussumas prandiolum.
13 Make a good fire. = Instruas optimum focum.
14 This chimney smokes. = Male fumat hic caminus.
15 The wood is green. = Viride est hoc lignum.
16 Fetch kindling wood. = Affer fomitem.
17 Lay the table cloth. = Sterne mappam.
18 Dinner is ready. = Cibus est appositus.
19 Don't spoil it by delay. = Ne corrumpatur mora vestra.
20 Sit down. = Accumbe.
21 This is my place. = Hic mihi locus.
22 Let him sit next me. = Assideat mihi.
23 Say grace, or ask a blessing.. = Recita consecrationem.
24 Give me brown bread. = Da mihi panem atrum.
25 I am going to school. = Eo ad scholam.
26 What time is it? = Quota est hora?
27 It is past seven. = Pręteriit hora septima.
28 The bell has rung. = Sonuit tintinnabulum.
29 Go with me. = Vade mecum.
30 The master will soon be here.= Brevi pręceptor aderit.
31 I am very cold. = Valde frigeo.
32 My hands are numb. = Obtorpent manus.
33 Mend the fire. = Apta ignem.
I have copied out only a few of the shorter sentences. There were, as I have said, fully twenty pages of it, enough for quite a respectable "Universal Language," or at least the beginnings of one. Perhaps some ambitious linguist will yet take it up in earnest.