The Particular Master — Various Methods of Punishment
I HAVE given some account of my first winter at school. Of my second, third, and fourth, I have nothing of importance to say. The routine was the same in each. The teachers were remarkable for nothing in particular: if they were, I have too indistinct a remembrance of their characters to portray them now; so I will pass them by, and describe the teacher of my fifth.
He was called the particular master. The scholars in speaking of him, would say, "He is so particular." The first morning of the school, he read us a long list of regulations to be observed in school, and out. "There are more rules than you could shake a stick at before your arm would ache," said some one. "And if the master should shake a stick at every one who should disobey them, he would not find time to do much else," said another. Indeed, it proved to be so. Half the time was spent in calling up scholars for little misdemeanors, trying to make them confess their faults, and promise stricter obedience, or in devising punishments and inflicting them. Almost every method was tried that was ever suggested to the brain of pedagogue. Some were feruled on the hand; some were whipped with a rod on the back; some were compelled to hold out, at arm's length, the largest book which could be found, or a great leaden inkstand, till muscle and nerve, bone and marrow, were tortured with the continued exertion. If the arm bent or inclined from the horizontal level, it was forced back again by a knock of the ruler on the elbow. I well recollect that one poor fellow forgot his suffering by fainting quite away. This lingering punishment was more befitting the vengeance of a savage, than the corrective efforts of a teacher of the young in civilized life.
He had recourse to another method, almost, perhaps quite, as barbarous. It was standing in a stooping posture, with the finger on the head of a nail in the floor. It was a position not particularly favorable to health of body or soundness of mind; the head being brought about as low as the knees, the blood rushing to it, and pressing unnaturally on the veins, often caused a dull pain, and a staggering dizziness. That man's judgment or mercy must have been topsy-turvy also, who first set the example of such an infliction on those whose progress in knowledge depended somewhat on their being kept right end upward.
The above punishments were sometimes rendered doubly painful by their taking place directly in front of the enormous fire, so that the pitiable culprit was roasted as well as racked. Another mode of punishment — an anti-whispering process — was setting the jaws at a painful distance apart, by inserting a chip perpendicularly between the teeth. Then we occasionally had our hair pulled, our noses tweaked, our ears pinched and boxed, or snapped, perhaps, with India-rubber; this last the perfection of ear-tingling operations. There were minor penalties, moreover, for minor faults. The uneasy urchins were clapped into the closet, thrust under the desk, or perched on its top. Boys were made to sit in the girls' seats, amusing the school with their grinning awkwardness; and girls were obliged to sit on the masculine side of the aisle, with crimsoned necks, and faces buried in their aprons.
But I have dwelt long enough on the various penalties of the numerous violations of Master Particular's many orders. After all, he did not keep an orderly school. The cause of the mischief was, he was variable. He wanted that persevering firmness and uniformity which alone can insure success. He had so many regulations, that he could not stop at all times to notice the transgressions of them. The scholars, not knowing with certainty what to expect, dared to run the risk of disobedience. The consequence of this procedure on the part of the ruler and the ruled was, that the school became uncommonly riotous before the close of the season. The larger scholars soon broke over all restraint; but the little ones were narrowly watched and restricted somewhat longer. But these gradually grew unmindful of the unstable authority, and finally contemned it with almost insolent effrontery, unless the master's temper-kindled eye was fixed directly and menacingly upon them. Thus the many regulations were like so many cobwebs, through which the great flies would break at once, and so tear and disorder the net that it would not hold even the little ones, or at all answer the purpose for which it was spun.
I would not have it understood that this master was singular in his punishments; for such methods of correcting offenders have been in use time out of mind. He was distinguished only for resorting to them more frequently than any other instructor within my own observation. The truth is, that it seemed to be the prevailing opinion both among teachers and parents, that boys and girls would play and be mischievous at any rate, and that consequently masters must punish in some way or other. It was a matter of course; nothing better was expected.