« 前へ次へ »
teacher found the way to the “big house," where an interesting class of smart young serving-women received his instructions. He was vastly popular with his class. Though a cripple, he was a bachelor, and a clever insinuating fellow to boot. He was also the precentor of the Parish Church, and could play the fiddle. The dairymaid, as pioneer and first-foot of the class, looked for the special attention of her teacher. She was of mature age and experience, and in her own opinion was well-fitted to be the helpmate of one whose calling implied a certain sobriety and gravity of deportment. She had, moreover, saved a trifle of money. No wonder the gossips wagged their heads. To her the schoolmaster was always considerate and respectful; but in vain was her ribboned cap set at him with nearer and warmer interest. He had his pick of the lot, and the sly rogue chose the prettiest, the youngest, and the pertest. She was my lady’s-maid, and having passed a week or two on one memorable occasion in London, her effort to discipline her dainty tongue and pouting rosy lips to the rude vulgarities of “that horrid Gaelic,” was supremely amusing. All the same she made the cripple schoolmaster a good, ambitious wife. She taught him the ways of the gentry, and made him throw away his stilts to limp springingly along to church, in time iambic, with a fashionable walking stick. Finally, she brought up, healthily and wisely, a family of well-doing lads, who are an honour to their home and to the Highlands. Some of you may have heard of Dr Norman Macleod's examination of one of these schools, in which he found son, father, and grandfather, in the same Gaelic Bible class. At a certain stage in the work of examining the class, the little boy was visibly moved, and unable to contain himself any longer, at last burst out into a wail and bitter cry. “What's the matter with you, my boy ?? asked the kindly doctor. “Please, sir, I hae trappit my grandfather, and he winna let me up!”.
The most interesting feature, perhaps, in the work of these General Assembly schools, was their experience of what we now call “the religious difficulty." From the report of 1829, I see that in the Assembly's school at Glenlivat 26 of the pupils were Catholics ; at Dalibrog, in Uist, all the pupils but five were Catholics; and of the school at Balivanich, also in Uist, the teacher thus naively writes to the Convener :-" The greater part of the Roman Catholics have sent their children to this school, but they never allow their children to learn either Shorter or Mother's Catechism. For my part I have never insisted on their learning anything that might be the means of making a division, as has been the case before. What surprises me very much is, to find
that their children are allowed to learn portions of the Psalms like other children; but not a single question (of the Catechism) will they learn. I only remonstrated with two or three of them, and they told me that their mothers would not allow them to learn any Protestant Catechism, as they had a Catechism of their own.”
On this significant letter I make two remarks ; the schoolmaster of Balivanich must truly have been a Nathanael in whom was no guile, not to have seen the ecclesiastical differences between the Catechism and the Psalms, closely associated although they were in the work of our Highland schools; and in Uist, as elsewhere in the Catholic Church, the devout mothers were the best guardians of the Faith. But it should be noted that the priest, under this arrangement, did not discountenance thesc General Assembly schools. Along with the minister, the laird, and the factor, he was usually found assisting at the great annual function of the school examination by the local Presbytery.
It has been stated that from the first the General Assembly's Committee resolved that in Gaelic-speaking districts the teaching should be bilingual. But it must be confessed that in many cases their intention was never fairly and fully carried out. For one thing, the parents in many cases, even those of them who themselves knew little or no English, were dead against the teaching of Gaelic ; they wished their children to learn English, that they might get on in the world. But there was another serious drawback. There was not then, and there is not now, a reasonably suitable set of Gaelic school-books. The Committee's Gaelic school-books were prepared by an eminent Gaelic scholar and an experienced teacher. But the books proceed on a vicious principle --they are strict translations of Dr Andrew Thomson's schoolbooks. Even as English class-books these last are exceedingly faulty. They consist largely of heavy printed blocks or paragraphs of detached words, without rhyme or reason, which to learn is the dreariest and driest work I ever experienced. And the Gaelic books, being translations, bred new and almost unspeakable difficulties of their own. With a class of young children beginning to read, you must make up your little sentences of the shortest and simplest words you can weave together into sense, or something like sense. In Dr Andrew Thomson's First Book the words are anything but simple, and even if they were, their translation into Gaelic would not necessarily be simple or short. The translator did his best, but his best is really so bad as to be well-nigh impracticable. Perhaps the simplest set of English school-books for beginners is Nelsons. But in an evil hour, the Nelsons were induced to translate their first book into Gaelic, for the use of Highland schools, as it had previously been translated into French for the public schools in Quebec. What was the result? I venture to say that most of you who are not well practised Gaelic readers, would find, in this Primer for infants, a bit of remarkably tough work. Take, for example, the following little sentence :-go up to him. In English, nothing could be simpler, but turn it into Gaelic, and lo! the mouse has bred a mountain in very deed :-Falbh suos d'a ionnsuidhsa. Just think of that on the first page of a child's primer !
The truth is, that the preparation of a practicable Gaelic first lesson-book, is a most difficult thing. And, if ever it is done successfully, there must be no thought of translation. The shortest, simplest words of the language must be chosen, and deftly woven into the web of short intelligible sentences, passing as soon as possible into interesting stories. This wili assuredly be no child's play. I almost fear that the present spelling of Gaelic puts it entirely out of the running as an instrument of elementary instruction, otherwise than orally. The spelling of Gaelic, in Scotland as in Ireland, has, indeed, been its death—has done more to kill our noble tongue than the assaults and machinations of all its foes. If the great writers of the Elizabethan age were as frightened of each other, on the one hand, or as testily imperious on the other, about the proper spelling of English, as we are about the spelling of Gaelic, where to-day would be the great masterpieces of our English literature? No language under heaven is so unpretentious in its spelling as English : what tongue enshrines a nobler literature ? Therefore would I say to all my countrymen who love our mother tongue-Be content to write Gaelic, as Shakespeare, Milton, or Walter Scott wrote English. Make light of the mysteries and complex machinery of oracular experts in Gaelic spelling—not too severely caricatured as “Gaelic medicine men, and prophets of pretentious etymological hocus-pocus.” Some men would make you believe that the hardest literary work in this world is to write anything in Gaelic-in fact, that they alone are writers of Gaelic, and that the art will die with them. The strange thing is that these only writers of Gaelic never write it. Is it because they have nothing to write? Is it that they have so exhausted their wits in empty elaboration of the letter that of the spirit—of the thought—there is nothing in them? Or is it that they fear being weighed in their own balance ?
What connexion has all this with my subject? Much every way: for if our Gaelic had been more simply spelled, the General Assembly's efforts to teach it would have been more successful, the sap of native literary aspiration would not have been frozen in the bud, our Gaelic literature would have been much the richer, and the blot of illiteracy, all our schools notwithstanding, would long ago have been wiped from the brow of our people.
As I ain not writing the history of the General Assembly's noble scheme for spreading the blessings of education among the Highland people, there is no call for farther following the details of its growth and great prosperity. Unchecked by the internal troubles and controversies of the Church, it triumphantly advanced from strength to strength till, in 1872, when the whole educational work of Scotland was taken over by the Government, the statistics of the Committee, as stated in their report to the General Assembly, were as follows: -Annual income, exclusive of Government grants, £6831 ; number of schools 307, with 25,000 day pupils ; sewing schools, 130; superannuated teachers, 11. In that year the Committee also reports six building grants for new or enlarged school premises. It also reports a few Gaelic bursaries for Highland students in training at Normal Schools, for the supply of schools in Gaelic-speaking districts.
This was something of which the Highlands and the Church might well be proud. But to the Church the retrospect in 1872 was more gratifying than the prospect was re-assuring. Up till now, with the sister enterprise since 1843 of the kindred committee of the Free Church, * the Church of Scotland may be said to have charged herself with the education of the whole Scottish people. The Highland had always been her peculiar care. And the work may well be said to have prospered in her hand. In 1871 the Committee “recall to the attention of the Church that their funds are in so satisfactory a state that they were in a position not merely to grant urgent applications, but to invite them. They are satisfied that they are able to supply all, and more than all, the educational destitution existing in Scotland. Since issuing the invitation to ministers and others to bring all necessitous cases before them, they have had an opportunity afforded them of improving the position of many existing schools, but they have not yet been able to meet with more than half-a-dozen localities where there is actual want of the means of education, and these in remote and thinly-peopled Highland glens.” By the promoters of the Education Act, passed in 1872, it was expected that a rate of 3d per £1 would amply meet the wants of the School Boards. But
* See Note, p. 25.
the Church knew better. She argued that, in the Highlands at least, such a rate would be wholly inadequate. Thus speaks the report of the Committee to the Assembly of 1872 :-“ Moreover the rate will fail. A national rate will supply the necessary funds ; but parochial rating will fail to do so, without an intolerable pressure, in those very districts which most stand in need of better school buildings and more efficient teachers.” The calculations on which this warning is based need not here be repeated. The event, however, has shewn but too emphatically that churchmen can still be true prophets.
And so the curtain falls ! The Church and education, so honourably and so faithfully associated for many centuries, now part company. At least they have parted company, so far as what once we knew as the Protestant Reformed Faith is concerned. With other Churches the work of education is now much more firmly and jealously bound up than ever it was before. Will these new Church schools be as tolerant, as tenderly regardful of a neighbour's conscience, as the schools whose spirit and work I have endeavoured to describe ? Shall I say-need I say—time will tell ? Short as the time is, has it not told already ?
Be that as it may, the schools of the National Presbyterian Church have for ever passed away : and with them have passed away, whether we like it or not, the hold and influence of Presbyterianism, established and disestablished, on the life and work of the schools of the nation. Compared with the zealous, whole hearted religious propaganda of the Catholic and Episcopal schools, our so-called religious “use and won.t" in the National Schools, is but a mere caput mortuum—a compromise of incompatibles, which, necessarily, writes itself down incompetent-such a compromise of religion as represents the combined conscience, if such a thing can be, of a Board on which Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Infidel, have each an equal voice--such a compromise as practically cancels out the element of religion on both sides of the equation of our whole national school teaching—a compromise whose only possible symbol is lukewarm latitudinarianism--a latitudinarianism which, so far from being as of old, a graceful concession to those who differ from us, is only the bitter fruit of narrow, suicidal jealousies among ourselves. And all this, be it remembered, at a cost to the nation which is simply appalling, comes in the room of a system which cost the nation next to nothing.
But the past is past. Our duty is to make the best we can of things as they are. While, therefore, with the General Assembly of 1873, expressing our “deep regret that these admirable schools