TRAITS AND STORIES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
The Hedge School.
The Midnight Mass.
The Donagh; Or, The Horse Stealers.
THE HEDGE SCHOOL.
There never was a more unfounded calumny, than that which would impute to the Irish peasantry an indifference to education. I may, on the contrary, fearlessly assert that the lower orders of no country ever manifested such a positive inclination for literary acquirements, and that, too, under circumstances strongly calculated to produce carelessness and apathy on this particular subject. Nay, I do maintain, that he who is intimately acquainted with the character of our countrymen, must acknowledge that their zeal for book learning, not only is strong and ardent, when opportunities of scholastic education occur, but that it increases in proportion as these opportunities are rare and unattainable. The very name and nature of Hedge Schools are proof of this; for what stronger point could be made out, in illustration of my position, than the fact, that, despite of obstacles, the very idea of which would crush ordinary enterprise—when not even a shed could be obtained in which to assemble the children of an Irish village, the worthy pedagogue selected the first green spot on the sunny side of a quickset-thorn hedge, which he conceived adapted for his purpose, and there, under the scorching rays of a summer sun, and in defiance of spies and statutes, carried on the work of instruction. From this circumstance the name of Hedge School originated; and, however it may be associated with the ludicrous, I maintain, that it is highly creditable to the character of the people, and an encouragement to those who wish to see them receive pure and correct educational knowledge. A Hedge School, however, in its original sense, was but a temporary establishment, being only adopted until such a school-house could be erected, as it was in those days deemed sufficient to hold such a number of children, as were expected, at all hazards, to attend it.
The opinion, I know, which has been long entertained of Hedge Schoolmasters, was, and still is, unfavorable; but the character of these worthy and eccentric persons has been misunderstood, for the stigma attached to their want of knowledge should have rather been applied to their want of morals, because, on this latter point, were they principally indefensible. The fact is, that Hedge Schoolmasters were a class of men from whom morality was not expected by the peasantry; for, strange to say, one of their strongest recommendations to the good opinion of the People, as far as their literary talents and qualifications were concerned, was an inordinate love of whiskey, and if to this could be added a slight touch of derangement, the character was complete.
On once asking an Irish peasant, why he sent his children to a schoolmaster who was notoriously addicted to spirituous liquors, rather than to a man of sober habits who taught in the same neighborhood,
"Why do I send them to Mat Meegan, is it?" he replied—"and do you think, sir," said he, "that I'd send them to that dry-headed dunce, Mr. Frazher, with his black coat upon him, and his Caroline hat, and him wouldn't take a glass of poteen wanst in seven years? Mat, sir, likes it, and teaches the boys ten times betther whin he's dhrunk nor when he's sober; and you'll never find a good tacher, sir, but's fond of it. As for Mat, when he's half gone, I'd turn him agin the country for deepness in learning; for it's then he rhymes it out of him, that it would do one good to hear him."
"So," said I, "you think that a love of drinking poteen is a sign of talent in a school-master?"
"Ay, or in any man else, sir," he replied. "Look at tradesmen, and 'tis always the cleverest that you'll find fond of the drink! If you had hard Mat and Frazher, the other evening, at it—what a hare Mat made of him! but he was just in proper tune for it, being, at the time, purty well I thank you, and did not lave him a leg to stand upon. He took him in Euclid's Ailments and Logicals, and proved in Frazher's teeth that the candlestick before them was the church-steeple, and Frazher himself the parson; and so sign was on it, the other couldn't disprove it, but had to give in."
"Mat, then," I observed, "is the most learned man on this walk."
"Why, thin, I doubt that same, sir," replied he, "for all he's so great in the books; for, you see, while they were ding dust at it, who comes in but mad Delaney, and he attacked Mat, and, in less than no time, rubbed the consate out of him, as clane as he did out of Frazher."
"Who is Delaney?" I inquired.
"He was the makings of a priest, sir, and was in Maynooth a couple of years, but he took in the knowledge so fast, that, bedad, he got cracked wid larnin'—for a dunce you see, never cracks wid it, in regard of the thickness of the skull: no doubt but he's too many for Mat, and can go far beyant him in the books; but then, like Mat, he's still brightest whin he has a sup in his head."
These are the prejudices which the Irish peasantry have long entertained concerning the character of hedge schoolmasters; but, granting them to be unfounded, as they generally are, yet it is an indisputable fact, that hedge schoolmasters were as superior in literary knowledge and acquirements to the class of men who are now engaged in the general education of the people, as they were beneath them in moral and religious character. The former part of this assertion will, I am aware, appear rather startling to many. But it is true; and one great cause why the character of Society Teachers is undervalued, in many instances, by the people, proceeds from a conviction on their parts, that they are, and must be, incapable, from the slender portion of learning they have received, of giving their children a sound and practical education.
But that we may put this subject in a clearer light, we will give a sketch of the course of instruction which was deemed necessary for a hedge schoolmaster, and let it be contrasted with that which falls to the lot of those engaged in the conducting of schools patronized by the Education Societies of the present day.
When a poor man, about twenty or thirty years ago, understood from the schoolmaster who educated his sons, that any of them was particularly "cute at his larnin'," the ambition of the parent usually directed itself to one of three objects—he would either make him a priest, a clerk, or a schoolmaster. The determination once fixed, the boy was set apart from every kind of labor, that he might be at liberty to bestow his undivided time and talents to the object set before him. His parents strained every nerve to furnish him with the necessary books, and always took care that his appearance and dress should be more decent than those of any other member of the family. If the church were in prospect, he was distinguished, after he had been two or three years at his Latin, by the appellation of "the young priest," an epithet to him of the greatest pride and honor; but if destined only to wield the ferula, his importance in the family, and the narrow circle of his friends, was by no means so great. If, however, the goal of his future ambition as a schoolmaster was humbler, that of his literary career was considerably extended. He usually remained at the next school in the vicinity until he supposed that he had completely drained the master of all his knowledge. This circumstance was generally discovered in the following manner:—As soon as he judged himself a match for his teacher, and possessed sufficient confidence in his own powers, he penned him a formal challenge to meet him in literary contest either in his own school, before competent witnesses, or at the chapel-green, on the Sabbath day, before the arrival of the priest or probably after it—for the priest himself was sometimes the moderator and judge upon these occasions. This challenge was generally couched in rhyme, and either sent by the hands of a common friend or posted upon the chapel-door.
These contests, as the reader perceives, were always public, and were witnessed by the peasantry with intense interest. If the master sustained a defeat, it was not so much attributed to his want of learning, as to the overwhelming talent of his opponent; nor was the success of the pupil generally followed by the expulsion of the master—for this was but the first of a series of challenges which the former proposed to undertake, ere he eventually settled himself in the exercise of his profession.
I remember being present at one of them, and a ludicrous exhibition it was. The parish priest, a red-faced, jocular little man, was president; and his curate, a scholar of six feet two inches in height, and a schoolmaster from the next parish, were judges. I will only touch upon two circumstances in their conduct, which evinced a close, instinctive knowledge of human nature in the combatants. The master would not condescend to argue off his throne—a piece of policy to which, in my opinion, he owed his victory (for he won); whereas the pupil insisted that he should meet him on equal ground, face to face, in the lower end of the room. It was evident that the latter could not divest himself of his boyish terror so long as the other sat, as it were, in the plentitude of his former authority, contracting his brows with habitual sternness, thundering out his arguments, with a most menacing and stentorian voice, while he thumped his desk with his shut fist, or struck it with his great ruler at the end of each argument, in a manner that made the youngster put his hands behind him several times, to be certain that that portion of his dress which is unmentionable was tight upon him. If in these encounters the young candidate for the honors of the literary sceptre was not victorious, he again resumed his studies, under his old preceptor, with renewed vigor and becoming humility; but if he put the schoolmaster down, his next object was to seek out some other teacher, whose celebrity was unclouded within his own range. With him he had a fresh encounter, and its result was similar to what I have already related.
If victorious, he sought out another and more learned opponent; and if defeated, he became the pupil of his conqueror—going night about, during his sojourn at the school, with the neighboring farmers' sons, whom he assisted in their studies, as a compensation for his support. He was called during these peregrinations, the Poor Scholar, a character which secured him the esteem and hospitable attention of the peasantry, who never fail in respect to any one characterized by a zeal for learning and knowledge.
In this manner he proceeded, a literary knight errant, filled with a chivalrous love of letters, which would have done honor to the most learned peripatetic of them all; enlarging his own powers, and making fresh acquisitions of knowledge as he went along. His contests, his defeats, and his triumphs, of course, were frequent; and his habits of thinking and reasoning must have been considerably improved, his acquaintance with classical and mathematical authors rendered more intimate, and his powers of illustration and comparison more clear and happy. After three or four years spent in this manner, he usually returned to his native place, sent another challenger to the schoolmaster, in the capacity of a candidate for his situation, and if successful, drove him out of the district, and established himself in his situation. The vanquished master sought a new district, sent a new challenge, in his turn, to some other teacher, and usually put him to flight in the same manner. The terms of defeat or victory, according to their application, were called sacking and bogging. "There was a great argument entirely, sir," said a peasant once, when speaking of these contests, "'twas at the chapel on Sunday week, betiane young Tom Brady, that was a poor scholar in Munsther, and Mr. Hartigan the schoolmaster."
"And who was victorious?" I inquired. "Why, sir, and maybe 'twas young Brady that didn't sack him clane before the priest and all, and went nigh to bog the priest himself in Greek. His Reverence was only two words beyant him; but he sacked the masther any how, and showed him in the Grammatical and Dixonary where he was Wrong."
"And what is Brady's object in life?" I asked. "What does he intend to do."
"Intend to do, is it? I am tould nothing less nor going into Trinity College in Dublin and expects to bate them all there, out and out: he's first to make something they call a seizure; (* Sizar) and, afther making that good he's to be a counsellor. So, sir, you see what it is to resave good schoolin', and to have the larnin'; but, indeed, it's Brady that's the great head-piece entirely."
Unquestionably, many who received instruction in this manner have distinguished themselves in the Dublin University; and I have no hesitation in saying, that young men educated in Irish hedge schools, as they were called, have proved themselves to be better classical scholars and mathematicians, generally speaking, than any proportionate number of those educated in our first-rate academies. The Munstor masters have long been, and still are, particularly celebrated for making excellent classical and mathematical scholars.
That a great deal of ludicrous pedantry generally accompanied this knowledge is not at all surprising, when we consider the rank these worthy teachers held in life, and the stretch of inflation at which their pride was kept by the profound reverence excited by their learning among the people. It is equally true, that each of them had a stock of crambos ready for accidental encounter, which would have puzzled Euclid or Sir Isaac Newton himself; but even these trained their minds to habits of acuteness and investigation. When a schoolmaster of this class had established himself as a good mathematician, the predominant enjoyment of his heart and life was to write the epithet Philomath after his name; and this, whatever document he subscribed, was never omitted. If he witnessed a will, it was Timothy Fagan, Philomath; if he put his name to a promissory note, it was Tim. Pagan, Philomath; if he addressed a love-letter to his sweetheart, it was still Timothy Fagan—or whatever the name might be—Philomath; and this was always written in legible and distinct copy-hand, sufficiently large to attract the observation of the reader.
It was also usual for a man who had been a preeminent and extraordinary scholar, to have the epithet Great prefixed to his name. I remember one of this description, who was called the Great O'Brien par excellence. In the latter years of his life he gave up teaching, and led a circulating life, going round from school to school, and remaining a week or a month alternately among his brethren. His visits were considered an honor, and raised considerably the literary character of those with whom he resided; for he spoke of dunces with the most dignified contempt, and the general impression was, that he would scorn even to avail himself of their hospitality. Like most of his brethren, he could not live without the poteen; and his custom was, to drink a pint of it in its native purity before he entered into any literary contest, or made any display of his learning at wakes or other Irish festivities; and most certainly, however blamable the practice, and injurious to health and morals, it threw out his talents and his powers in a most surprising manner.
It was highly amusing to observe the peculiarity which the consciousness of superior knowledge impressed upon the conversation and personal appearance of this decaying race. Whatever might have been the original conformation of their physical structure, it was sure, by the force of acquired habit, to transform itself into a stiff, erect, consequential, and unbending manner, ludicrously characteristic of an inflated sense of their extraordinary knowledge, and a proud and commiserating contempt of the dark ignorance by which, in despite of their own light, they were surrounded. Their conversation, like their own crambos, was dark and difficult to be understood; their words, truly sesquipedalian; their voice, loud and commanding in its tones; their deportment, grave and dictatorial, but completely indescribable, and certainly original to the last degree, in those instances where the ready, genuine humor of their country maintained an unyielding rivalry in their disposition, against the natural solemnity which was considered necessary to keep up the due dignity of their character.
In many of these persons, where the original gayety of the disposition was known, all efforts at the grave and dignified were complete failures, and these were enjoyed by the peasantry and their own pupils, nearly with the sensations which the enactment of Hamlet by Liston would necessarily produce. At all events, their education, allowing for the usual exceptions, was by no means superficial; and the reader has already received a sketch of the trials which they had to undergo, before they considered themselves qualified to enter upon the duties of their calling. Their life was, in fact, a state of literary warfare; and they felt that a mere elementary knowledge of their business would have been insufficient to carry them, with suitable credit, through the attacks to which they were exposed from travelling teachers, whose mode of establishing themselves in schools, was, as I said, by driving away the less qualified, and usurping their places. This, according to the law of opinion and the custom which prevailed, was very easily effected, for the peasantry uniformly encouraged those whom they supposed to be the most competent; as to moral or religious instruction, neither was expected from them, so that the indifference of the moral character was no bar to their success.
The village of Findramore was situated at the foot of a long green hill, the outline of which formed a low arch, as it rose to the eye against the horizon. This hill was studded with clumps of beeches, and sometimes enclosed as a meadow. In the month of July, when the grass on it was long, many an hour have I spent in solitary enjoyment, watching the wavy motion produced upon its pliant surface by the sunny winds, or the flight of the cloud-shadows, like gigantic phantoms, as they swept rapidly over it, whilst the murmur of the rocking-trees, and the glancing of their bright leaves in the sun produced a heartfelt pleasure, the very memory of which rises in my imagination like some fading recollection of a brighter world. At the foot of this hill ran a clear, deep-banked river, bounded on one side by a slip of rich, level meadow, and on the other by a kind of common for the village geese, whose white feathers, during the summer season, lay scattered over its green surface. It was also the play-ground for the boys of the village school; for there ran that part of the river which, with very correct judgment, the urchins had selected as their bathing-place. A little slope, or watering-ground in the bank, brought them to the edge of the stream, where the bottom fell away into the fearful depths of the whirlpool, under the hanging oak on the other bank. Well do I remember the first time I ventured to swim across it, and even yet do I see, in imagination, the two bunches of water flaggons on which the inexperienced swimmers trusted themselves in the water.
About two hundred yards from this, the boreen (* A little road) which led from the village to the main road, crossed the river, by one of those old narrow bridges whose arches rise like round ditches across the road—an almost impassable barrier to horse and car. On passing the bridge in a northern direction, you found a range of low thatched houses on each side of the road: and if one o'clock, the hour of dinner, drew near, you might observe columns of blue smoke curling up from a row of chimneys, some made of wicker creels plastered over with a rich coat of mud; some, of old, narrow, bottomless tubs; and others, with a greater appearance of taste, ornamented with thick, circular ropes of straw, sewed together like bees' skeps, with a peel of a briar; and many having nothing but the open vent above. But the smoke by no means escaped by its legitimate aperture, for you might observe little clouds of it bursting out of the doors and windows; the panes of the latter being mostly stopped at other times with old hats and rags, were now left entirely open for the purpose of giving it a free escape.
Before the doors, on right and left, was a series of dunghills, each with its concomitant sink of green, rotten water; and if it happened that a stout-looking woman, with watery eyes, and a yellow cap hung loosely upon her matted locks, came, with a chubby urchin on one arm, and a pot of dirty water in her hand, its unceremonious ejection in the aforesaid sink would be apt to send you up the village with your finger and thumb (for what purpose you would yourself perfectly understand) closely, but not knowingly, applied to your nostrils. But, independently of this, you would be apt to have other reasons for giving your horse, whose heels are by this time surrounded by a dozen of barking curs, and the same number of shouting urchins, a pretty sharp touch of the spurs, as well as for complaining bitterly of the odor of the atmosphere. It is no landscape without figures; and you might notice, if you are, as I suppose you to be, a man of observation, in every sink as you pass along, a "slip of a pig," stretched in the middle of the mud, the very beau ideal of luxury, giving occasionally a long, luxuriant grunt, highly-expressive of his enjoyment; or, perhaps, an old farrower, lying in indolent repose, with half a dozen young ones jostling each other for their draught, and punching her belly with their little snouts, reckless of the fumes they are creating; whilst the loud crow of the cock, as he confidently flaps his wings on his own dunghill, gives the warning note for the hour of dinner.
As you advance, you will also perceive several faces thrust out of the doors, and rather than miss a sight of you, a grotesque visage peeping by a short cut through the paneless windows—or a tattered female flying to snatch up her urchin that has been tumbling itself, heels up, in the dust of the road, lest "the gentleman's horse might ride over it;" and if you happen to look behind, you may observe a shaggy-headed youth in tattered frieze, with one hand thrust indolently in his breast, standing at the door in conversation with the inmates, a broad grin of sarcastic ridicule on his face, in the act of breaking a joke or two upon yourself, or your horse; or perhaps, your jaw may be saluted with a lump of clay, just hard enough not to fall asunder as it flies, cast by some ragged gorsoon from behind a hedge, who squats himself in a ridge of corn to avoid detection.
Seated upon a hob at the door, you may observe a toil-worn man, without coat or waistcoat; his red, muscular, sunburnt shoulder peering through the remnant of a skirt, mending his shoes with a piece of twisted flax, called a lingel, or, perhaps, sewing two footless stockings (or martyeens) to his coat, as a substitute for sleeves.
In the gardens, which are usually fringed with nettles, you will see a solitary laborer, working with that carelessness and apathy that characterizes an Irishman when he labors for himself—leaning upon his spade to look after you, glad of any excuse to be idle. The houses, however, are not all such as I have described—far from it. You see here and there, between the more humble cabins, a stout, comfortable-looking farm-house, with ornamental thatching and well-glazed windows; adjoining to which is a hay-yard, with five or six large stacks of corn, well-trimmed and roped, and a fine, yellow, weather-beaten old hay-rick, half cut—not taking into account twelve or thirteen circular strata of stones, that mark out the foundations on which others had been raised. Neither is the rich smell of oaten or wheaten bread, which the good wife is baking on the griddle, unpleasant to your nostrils; nor would the bubbling of a large pot, in which you might see, should you chance to enter, a prodigious square of fat, yellow, and almost transparent bacon tumbling about, to be an unpleasant object; truly, as it hangs over a large fire, with well-swept hearthstone, it is in good keeping with the white settle and chairs, and the dresser with noggins, wooden trenchers, and pewter dishes, perfectly clean, and as well polished as a French courtier.
As you leave the village, you have, to the left, a view of the hill which I have already described, and to the right a level expanse of fertile country, bounded by a good view of respectable mountains, peering decently into the sky; and in a line that forms an acute angle from the point of the road where you ride, is a delightful valley, in the bottom of which shines a pretty lake; and a little beyond, on the slope of a green hill, rises a splendid house, surrounded by a park, well wooded and stocked with deer. You have now topped the little hill above the village, and a straight line of level road, a mile long, goes forward to a country town, which lies immediately behind that white church, with its spire cutting into the sky, before you. You descend on the other side, and, having advanced a few perches, look to the left, where you see a long, thatched chapel, only distinguished from a dwelling-house by its want of chimneys and a small stone cross that stands on the top of the eastern gable; behind it is a graveyard; and beside it a snug public-house, well whitewashed; then, to the right, you observe a door apparently in the side of a clay bank, which rises considerably above the pavement of the road. What! you ask yourself, can this be a human habitation?—but ere you have time to answer the question, a confused buzz of voices from within reaches your ear, and the appearance of a little "gorsoon," with a red, close-cropped head and Milesian face, having in his hand a short, white stick, or the thigh-bone of a horse, which you at once recognize as "the pass" of a village school, gives you the full information. He has an ink horn, covered with leather, dangling at the button-hole (for he has long since played away the buttons) of his frieze jacket—his mouth is circumscribed with a streak of ink—his pen is stuck knowingly behind his ear—his shins are dotted over with fire-blisters, black, red, and blue—on each heel a kibe—his "leather crackers," videlicet—breeches shrunk up upon him, and only reaching as far down as the caps of his knees. Having spied you, he places his hand over his brows, to throw back the dazzling light of the sun, and peers at you from under it, till he breaks out into a laugh, exclaiming, half to himself, half to you:—
"You a gintleman!—no, nor one of your breed never was, you procthorin' thief, you!"
You are now immediately opposite the door of the seminary, when half a dozen of those seated next it notice you.
"Oh, sir, here's a gintleman on a horse!—masther, sir, here's a-gintleman on a horse, wid boots and spurs on him, that's looking in at us."
"Silence!" exclaims the master; "back from the door; boys, rehearse; every one of you, rehearse, I say, you Boeotians, till the gintleman goes past!"
"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"No, you don't, Phelim."
"I do, indeed, sir."
"What!—is it after conthradictin' me you'd be? Don't you see the 'porter's' out, and you can't go."
"Well, 'tis Mat Meehan has it, sir: and he's out this half-hour, sir; I can't stay in, sir—iplrfff—iphfff!"
"You want to be idling your time looking at the gintleman, Phelim."
"No, indeed, sir—iphfff!"
"Phelim, I know you of ould—go to your sate. I tell you, Phelim, you were born for the encouragement of the hemp manufacture, and you'll die promoting it."
In the meantime, the master puts his head out of the door, his body stooped to a "half bend"—a phrase, and the exact curve which it forms, I leave for the present to your own sagacity—and surveys you until you pass. That is an Irish hedge school, and the personage who follows you with his eye, a hedge schoolmaster. His name is Matthew Kavanagh; and, as you seem to consider his literary establishment rather a curiosity in its kind, I will, if you be disposed to hear it, give you the history of him and his establishment, beginning, in the first place, with
THE ABDUCTION OF MAT KAVANAGH,
THE HEDGE SCHOOLMASTER.
For about three years before the period of which I write, the village of Findramore, and the parish in which it lay, were without a teacher. Mat's predecessor was a James Garraghty, a lame young man, the son of a widow, whose husband lost his life in attempting to extinguish a fire that broke out in the dwelling-house of Squire Johnston, a neighboring magistrate. The son was a boy at the time of this disaster, and the Squire, as some compensation for the loss of his father's life in his service, had him educated at his own expense; that is to say, he gave the master who taught in the village orders to educate him gratuitously, on the condition of being horsewhipped out of the parish, if he refused. As soon as he considered himself qualified to teach, he opened a school in the village on his own account, where he taught until his death, which happened in less than a year after the commencement of his little seminary. The children usually assembled in his mother's cabin; but as she did not long survive the son, this, which was at best a very miserable residence, soon tottered to the ground. The roof and thatch were burnt for firing, the mud gables fell in, and were overgrown with grass, nettles, and docks; and nothing remained but a foot or two of the little clay side-walls, which presented, when associated with the calamitous fate of their inoffensive inmates, rather a touching image of ruin upon a small scale.
Garraghty had been attentive to his little pupils, and his instructions were sufficient to give them a relish for education—a circumstance which did not escape the observation of their parents, who duly appreciated it. His death, however, deprived them of this advantage; and as schoolmasters, under the old system, were always at a premium, it so happened, that for three years afterwards, not one of that class presented himself to their acceptance. Many a trial had been made, and many a sly offer held out, as a lure to the neighboring teachers, but they did not take; for although the country was densely inhabited, yet it was remarked that no schoolmaster ever "thruv" in the neighborhood of Findramore. The place, in fact, had got a bad name. Garraghty died, it was thought, of poverty, a disease to which the Findramore schoolmasters had been always known to be subject. His predecessor, too, was hanged, along with two others, for burning the house of an "Aagint."
Then the Findramore boys were not easily dealt with, having an ugly habit of involving their unlucky teachers in those quarrels which they kept up with the Ballyscanlan boys, a fighting clan that lived at the foot of the mountains above them. These two factions, when they met, whether at fair or market, wake or wedding, could never part without carrying home on each side a dozen or two of bloody coxcombs. For these reasons, the parish of Aughindrum had for a few years been afflicted with an extraordinary dearth of knowledge; the only literary establishment which flourished in it being a parochial institution, which, however excellent in design, yet, like too many establishments of the same nature, it degenerated into a source of knowledge, morals, and education, exceedingly dry and unproductive to every person except the master, who was enabled by his honest industry to make a provision for his family absolutely surprising, when we consider the moderate nature of his ostensible income. It was, in fact, like a well dried up, to which scarcely any one ever thinks of going for water.
Such a state of things, however, could not last long. The youth of Findramore were parched for want of the dew of knowledge; and their parents and grown brethren met one Saturday evening in Barny Brady's shebeen-house, to take into consideration the best means for procuring a resident schoolmaster for the village and neighborhood. It was a difficult point, and required great dexterity of management to enable them to devise any effectual remedy for the evil which they felt. There were present at this council, Tim Dolan, the senior of the village, and his three sons, Jem Coogan, Brian Murphy, Paddy Delany, Owen Roe O'Neil, Jack Traynor, and Andy Connell, with five or six others, whom it is not necessary to enumerate.
"Bring us in a quart, Barny," said Dolan to Brady, whom on this occasion we must designate as the host; "and let it be rale hathen."
"What do you mane, Tim?" replied the host.
"I mane," continued Dolan, "stuff that was never christened, man alive."
"Thin I'll bring you the same that Father Maguire got last night on his way home afther anointin' 'ould Katty Duffy," replied Brady. "I'm sure, whatever I might be afther giving to strangers, Tim, I'd be long sorry to give yous anything but the right sort."
"That's a gay man, Barny," said Traynor, "but off wid you like a shot, and let us get it under our tooth first, an' then we'll tell you more about it—A big rogue is the same Barny," he added, after Brady had gone to bring in the poteen, "an' never sells a dhrop that's not one whiskey and five wathers."
"But he couldn't expose it on you; Jack," observed Connell; "you're too ould a hand about the pot for that. Warn't you in the mountains last week?"
"Ay: but the curse of Cromwell upon the thief of a gauger, Simpson—himself and a pack o' redcoats surrounded us when we war beginnin' to double, and the purtiest runnin' that ever you seen was lost; for you see, before you could cross yourself, we had the bottoms knocked clane out of the vessels; so that the villains didn't get a hole in our coats, as they thought they would."
"I tell you," observed O'Neil, "there's a bad pill* somewhere about us."
* This means a treacherous person who cannot depended upon.
"Ay, is there, Owen," replied Traynor; "and what is more, I don't think he's a hundhre miles from the place where we're sittin' in."
"Faith, maybe so Jack," returned the other.
"I'd never give into that," said Murphy. "'Tis Barny Brady that would never turn informer—the same thing isn't in him, nor in any of his breed; there's not a man in the parish I'd thrust sooner."
"I'd jist thrust him," replied Traynor, "as far as I could throw a cow by the tail. Arrah, what's the rason that the gauger never looks next or near his place, an' it's well known that he sells poteen widout a license, though he goes past his door wanst a week?"
"What the h—— is keepin' him at all?" inquired one of Dolan's sons.
"Look at him," said Traynor, "comin' in out of the garden; how much afeard he is! keepin' the whiskey in a phatie ridge—an' I'd kiss the book that he brought that bottle out in his pocket, instead of diggin' it up out o' the garden."
Whatever Brady's usual habits of christening his poteen might have been, that which he now placed before them was good. He laid the bottle on a little deal table with cross legs, and along with it a small drinking glass fixed in a bit of flat circular wood, as a substitute for the original bottom, which had been broken. They now entered upon the point, in question, without further delay.
"Come, Tim," said Coogan, "you're the ouldest man, and must spake first."
"Troth, man," replied Dolan, "beggin' your pardon, I'll dhrink first—healths apiece, your sowl; success boys—glory to ourselves, and confusion to the Scanlon boys, any way."
"And maybe," observed Connell, "'tis we that didn't lick them well in the last fair—they're not able to meet the Findramore birds even on their own walk."
"Well, boys," said Delany, "about the masther? Our childre will grow up like bullockeens (* little bullocks) widout knowing a ha'porth; and larning, you see, is a burdyen that's asy carried."
"Ay," observed O'Neil, "as Solvester Maguire, the poet, used to say—
'Labor for larnin, before you grow ould, For larnin' is better nor riches nor gould; Riches an' gould they may vanquish away, But larnin' alone it will never decay.'"
"Success, Owen! Why, you might put down the pot and warm an air to it," said Murphy.
"Well, boys, are we all safe?" asked Traynor.
"Safe?" said old Dolan. "Arrah, what are you talkin' about? Sure 'tisn't of that same spalpeen of a gauger that we'd be afraid!"
During this observation, young Dolan pressed Traynor's foot under the table, and they both went out for about five minutes.
"Father," said the son, when he and Traynor re-entered the room, "you're a wanting home."
"Who wants me, Larry, avick?" says the father.
The son immediately whispered to him for a moment, when the old man instantly rose, got his hat, and after drinking another bumper of the poteen, departed.
"Twas hardly worth while," said Delany; "the ould fellow is mettle to the back-bone, an' would never show the garran-bane at any rate, even if he knew all about it."
"Bad end to the syllable I'd let the same ould cock hear," said the son; "the divil thrust any man that didn't switch the primer (* take and oath) for it, though he is my father; but now, boys, that the coast's clear, and all safe—where will we get a schoolmaster? Mat Kavanagh won't budge from the Scanlon boys, even if we war to put our hands undher his feet; and small blame to him—sure, you would not expect him to go against his own friends?"
"Faith, the gorsoons is in a bad state," said Murphy; "but, boys where will we get a man that's up? Why I know 'tis betther to have anybody nor be without one; but we might kill two birds wid one stone—if we could get a masther that would carry 'Articles,'* an' swear in the boys, from time to time—an' between ourselves, if there's any danger of the hemp, we may as well lay it upon strange shoulders."
* A copy of the Whiteboy oath and regulations.
"Ay, but since Corrigan swung for the Aagint," replied Delaney, "they're a little modest in havin' act or part wid us; but the best plan is to get an advartisement wrote out, an' have it posted on the chapel door."
This hint was debated with much earnestness; but as they were really anxious to have a master—in the first place, for the simple purpose of educating their children; and in the next, for filling the situation of director and regulator of their illegal Ribbon meetings—they determined on penning an advertisement, according to the suggestion of Delaney. After drinking another bottle, and amusing themselves with some further chat, one of the Dolans undertook to draw up the advertisement, which ran as follows:—
"Notes to Schoolmasthers, and to all others whom it may consarn.
"For the nabourhood and the vircinity of the Townland of Findramore, in the Parish of Aughindrum, in the Barony of Lisnamoghry, County of Sligo, Province of Connaught, Ireland.
"Take Notes—That any Schoolmaster who understands Spellin' gramatically—Readin' and Writin', in the raal way, accordin' to the Dixonary—Arithmatick, that is to say, the five common rules, namely, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—and addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, of Dives's denominations. Also reduction up and down—cross multiplication of coin—the Rule of Three Direck—the Rule of Three in verse—the double Rule of Three—Frackshins taught according to the vulgar and decimatin' method; and must be well practised to tache the Findramore boys how to manage the Scuffle.*
* The Scuffle was an exercise in fractions, illustrated by a quarrel between the first four letters of the alphabet, who went to loggerheads about a sugar-plum. A, for instance, seized upon three-fourths of it; but B snapped two-thirds of what he had got, and put it into his hat; C then knocked off his hat, and as worthy Mr. Gough says, "to Work they went." After kicking and cuffing each other in prime style, each now losing and again gaining alternately, the question is wound up by requiring the pupil to ascertain what quantity of the sugar-plum each had at the close.
"N.B. He must be will grounded in that. Practis, Discount, and Rebatin'. N.B. Must be well grounded in that also.
"Tret and Tare—Fellowship—Allegation—Barther—Rates per Scent—Intherest—Exchange—Prophet in Loss—the Square root—the Kibe Root—Hippothenuse—'Arithmatical and Jommetrical Purgation—Compound Intherest—Loggerheadism—Questions for exercise, and the Conendix to Algibbra. He must also know Jommithry accordin' to Grunther's scale—the Castigation of the Klipsticks—Surveying, and the use of the Jacob-staff.
"N.B. Would get a good dale of Surveyin' to do in the vircinity of Findramore, particularly in Con-acre time. If he know the use of the globe, it would be an accusation. He must also understand the Three Sets of Book-keeping, by single and double entry, particularly Loftus & Company of Paris, their Account of Cash and Company. And above all things, he must know how to tache the Sarvin' of Mass in Latin, and be able to read Doctor Gallaher's Irish Sarmints, and explain Kolumkill's and Pasterini's Prophecies.
"N.B. If he understands Cudgel-fencin', it would be an accusation also—but mustn't tache us wid a staff that bends in the middle, bekase it breaks one's head across the guard. Any schoolmaster capacious and collified to instruct in the above-mintioned branches, would get a good school in the townland Findramore and its vircinity, be well fed, an' get the hoith o' good livin' among the farmers, an' would be ped—
"For Book-keepin', the three sets, a ginny and half.'
"For Gommethry, &c, half a qinny a quarther.
"Arithmatic, aight and three-hapuns.
"Readin", Writin', &c, six Hogs.
"Given under our hands, this 37th day of June, 18004.
"Larry Dolan. "Dick Dolan, his (X) mark. "Jem Coogan, his (X) mark. "Brine Murphey. "Paddy Delany, his (X) mark. "Jack Traynor. "Andy Connell. "Owen Roe O'Neil, his (X) mark."
"N.B. By making airly application to any of the undher-mintioned, he will hear of further particklers; and if they find that he will shoot them, he may expect the best o' thratement, an' be well fed among the farmers.*
"N.B. Would get also a good Night-school among the vircinity."
* Nothing can more decidedly prove the singular and extraordinary thirst for education and general knowledge which characterizes the Irish people, than the shifts to which they have often gone in order to gain even a limited portion of instruction. Of this the Irish Night School is a complete illustration. The Night School was always opened either for those of early age, who from their poverty were forced to earn something for their own support during the day; or to assist their parents; or for grown young men who had never had an opportunity of acquiring education in their youth, but who now devoted a couple of hours during a winter's night, when they could do nothing else, to the acquisition of reading and writing, and sometimes of accounts. I know not how it was, but the Night School boys, although often thrown into the way of temptation, always conducted themselves with singular propriety. Indeed, the fact is, after all, pretty easily accounted for—inasmuch as none but the steadiest, most sensible, and best conducted young men ever attended it.
Having penned the above advertisement, it was carefully posted early the next morning on the chapel-doors, with an expectation on the part of the patrons that it would not be wholly fruitless. The next week, however, passed without an application—the second also—and the third produced the same result; nor was there the slightest prospect of a school-master being blown by any wind to the lovers of learning at Findramore. In the meantime, the Ballyscanlan boys took care to keep up the ill-natured prejudice which had been circulated concerning the fatality that uniformly attended such schoolmasters as settled there; and when this came to the ears of the Findramore folk, it was once more resolved that the advertisement should be again put up, with a clause containing an explanation on that point. The clause ran as follows:
"N.B.—The two last masthers that was hanged out of Findramore, that is, Mickey Corrigan, who was hanged for killing the Aagent, and Jem Garraghty, that died of a declension—Jem died in consequence of ill-health, and Mickey was hanged contrary to his own wishes; so that it wasn't either of their faults—as witness our hands this 207th of July.
"Dick Dolan, his (X) mark."
This explanation, however, was as fruitless as the original advertisement; and week after week passed over without an offer from a single candidate. The "vicinity" of Findramore and its "naborhood" seemed devoted to ignorance; and nothing remained, except another effort at procuring a master by some more ingenious contrivance.
Debate after debate was consequently held in Barney Brady's; and, until a fresh suggestion was made by Delany, the prospect seemed as bad as ever. Delany, at length fell upon a new plan; and it must be confessed, that it was marked in a peculiar manner by a spirit of great originality and enterprise, it being nothing less than a proposal to carry off, by force or stratagem, Mat Kavanagh, who was at that time fixed in the throne of literature among the Ballyscanlan boys, quite unconscious of the honorable translation to the neighborhood of Findramore which was intended for him. The project, when broached, was certainly a startling one, and drove most of them to a pause, before they were sufficiently collected to give an opinion on its merits.
"Nothin', boys, is asier," said Delaney. "There's to be a patthern in Ballymagowan, on next Sathurday—an' that's jist half way betune ourselves and the Scanlan boys. Let us musther, an' go there, any how. We can keep an eye on Mat widout much trouble, an' when opportunity sarves, nick him at wanst, an' off wid him clane."
"But," said Traynor, "what would we do wid him when he'd be here? Wouldn't he cut an' run the first opportunity.
"How can he, ye omadhawn, if we put a manwill* in our pocket, an' sware him? But we'll butther him up when he's among us; or, be me sowks, if it goes that, force him either to settle wid ourselves, or to make himself scarce in the country entirely."
* Manual, a Roman Catholic prayer-book, generally pronounced as above.
"Divil a much force it'll take to keep him, I'm thinkin'," observed Murphy. "He'll have three times a betther school here; and if he wanst settled, I'll engage he would take to it kindly."
"See here, boys," says Dick Dolan, in a whisper, "if that bloody villain, Brady, isn't afther standin' this quarter of an hour, strivin' to hear what we're about; but it's well we didn't bring up anything consarnin' the other business; didn't I tell yees the desate was in 'im? Look at his shadow on the wall forninst us."
"Hould yer tongues, boys," said Traynor; "jist keep never mindin', and, be me sowks, I'll make him sup sorrow for that thrick."
"You had betther neither make nor meddle wid him," observed Delany, "jist put him out o' that—but don't rise yer hand to him, or he'll sarve you as he did Jem Flannagan: put ye three or four months in the Stone Jug" (* Gaol).
Traynor, however, had gone out while he was speaking, and in a few minutes dragged in Brady, whom he caught in the very act of eaves-dropping.
"Jist come in, Brady," said Traynor, as he dragged him along; "walk in, man alive; sure, and sich an honest man as you are needn't be afeard of lookin' his friends in the face! Ho!—an' be me sowl, is it a spy we've got; and, I suppose, would be an informer' too, if he had heard anything to tell!"
"What's the manin' of this, boys?" exclaimed the others, feigning ignorance. "Let the honest man go, Traynor. What do ye hawl him that way for, ye gallis pet'?"
"Honest!" replied Traynor; "how very honest he is, the desavin' villain, to be stand-in' at the windy there, wantin' to overhear the little harmless talk we had."
"Come, Traynor," said Brady, seizing him in his turn by the neck, "take your hands off of me, or, bad fate to me, but I'll lave ye a mark."
Traynor, in his turn, had his hand twisted in Brady's cravat, which he drew tightly about his neck, until the other got nearly black in the face.
"Let me go you villain!" exclaimed Brady, "or, by this blessed night that's in it, it'll be worse for you."
"Villain, is it?" replied Traynor, making a blow at him, whilst Brady snatched, at a penknife, which one of the others had placed on the table, after picking the tobacco out of his pipe—intending either to stab Traynor, or to cut the knot of the cravat by which he was held. The others, however, interfered, and presented further mischief.
"Brady," said Traynor, "you'll rue this night, if ever a man did, you tracherous in-formin' villian. What an honest spy we have among us!—and a short coorse to you!"
"O, hould yer tongue, Traynor!" replied Brady: "I believe it's best known who is both the spy and the informer. The divil a pint of poteen ever you'll run in this parish, until you clear yourself of bringing the gauger on the Tracys, bekase they tuck Mick M'Kew, in preference to yourself, to run it for them."
Traynor made another attempt to strike him, but was prevented. The rest now interfered; and, in the course of an hour or so, an adjustment took place.
Brady took up the tongs, and swore "by that blessed iron," that he neither heard, nor intended to hear, anything they said; and this exculpation was followed by a fresh bottle at his own expense.
"You omadhawn," said he to Traynor, "I was only puttin' up a dozen o' bottles into the tatch of the house, when you thought I was listenin';" and, as a proof of the truth of this, he brought them out, and showed them some bottles of poteen, neatly covered up under the thatch.
Before their separation they finally planned the abduction of Kavanagh from the Patron, on the Saturday following, and after drinking another round went home to their respective dwellings.
In this speculation, however, they experienced a fresh disappointment; for, ere Saturday arrived, whether in consequence of secret intimation of their intention from Brady, or some friend, or in compliance with the offer of a better situation, the fact was, that Mat Kavanagh had removed to another school, distant about eighteen miles from Findramore. But they were not to be outdone; a new plan was laid, and in the course of the next week a dozen of the most enterprising and intrepid of the "boys," mounted each upon a good horse, went to Mat's new residence for the express purpose of securing him.
Perhaps our readers may scarcely believe that a love of learning was so strong among the inhabitants of Findramore as to occasion their taking such remarkable steps for establishing a schoolmaster among them; but the country was densely inhabited, the rising population exceedingly numerous, and the outcry for a schoolmaster amongst the parents of the children loud and importunate.
The fact, therefore, was, that a very strong motive stimulated the inhabitants of Findramore in their efforts to procure a master. The old and middle-aged heads of families were actuated by a simple wish, inseparable from Irishmen, to have their children educated; and the young men, by a determination to have a properly qualified person to conduct their Night Schools, and improve them in their reading, writing, and arithmetic. The circumstance I am now relating is one which actually took place: and any man acquainted with the remote parts of Ireland, may have often seen bloody and obstinate quarrels among the peasantry, in vindicating a priority of claim to the local residence of a schoolmaster among them. I could, within my own experience, relate two or three instances of this nature.
It was one Saturday night, in the latter end of the month of May, that a dozen Findramore "boys," as they were called, set out upon this most singular of all literary speculations, resolved, at whatever risk, to secure the person and effect the permanent bodily presence among them of the Redoubtable Mat Kavanagh. Each man was mounted on a horse, and one of them brought a spare steed for the accommodation of the schoolmaster. The caparison of this horse was somewhat remarkable: wooden straddle, such as used by the peasantry for carrying wicker paniers creels, which are hung upon two wooden pins, that stand up out of its sides. Underneath was a straw mat, to prevent the horse's back from being stripped by it. On one side of this hung a large creel, and on the other a strong sack, tied round a stone merely of sufficient weight to balance the empty creel. The night was warm and clear, the moon and stars all threw their mellow light from a serene, unclouded sky, and the repose of nature in the short nights of this delightful season, resembles that of a young virgin of sixteen—still, light, and glowing. Their way, for the most part of their journey, lay through a solitary mountain-road; and, as they did not undertake the enterprise without a good stock of poteen, their light-hearted songs and choruses awoke the echoes that slept in the mountain glens as they went along. The adventure, it is true, had as much of frolic as of seriousness in it; and merely as the means of a day's fun for the boys, it was the more eagerly entered into.
It was about midnight when they left home, and as they did not wish to arrive at the village to which they were bound, until the morning should be rather advanced, the journey was as slowly performed as possible. Every remarkable object on the way was noticed, and its history, if any particular association was connected with it, minutely detailed, whenever it happened to be known. When the sun rose, many beautiful green spots and hawthorn valleys excited, even from these unpolished and illiterate peasants, warm bursts of admiration at their fragrance and beauty. In some places, the dark flowery heath clothed the mountains to the tops, from which the gray mists, lit by a flood of light, and breaking into masses before the morning breeze, began to descend into the valleys beneath them; whilst the voice of the grouse, the bleating of sheep and lambs, the pee-weet of the wheeling lap-wing, and the song of the lark threw life and animation the previous stillness of the country, sometimes a shallow river would cross the road winding off into a valley that was overhung, on one side, by rugged precipices clothed with luxurious heath and wild ash; whilst on the other it was skirted by a long sweep of greensward, skimmed by the twittering swallow, over which lay scattered numbers of sheep, cows, brood mares, and colts—many of them rising and stretching themselves ere they resumed their pasture, leaving the spots on which they lay of a deeper green. Occasionally, too, a sly-looking fox might be seen lurking about a solitary lamb, or brushing over the hills with a fat goose upon his back, retreating to his den among the inaccessible rocks, after having plundered some unsuspecting farmer.
As they advanced into the skirts of the cultivated country, they met many other beautiful spots of scenery among the upland, considerable portions of which, particularly in long sloping valleys, that faced the morning sun, were covered with hazel and brushwood, where the unceasing and simple notes of the cuckoo were incessantly plied, mingled with the more mellow and varied notes of the thrush and blackbird. Sometimes the bright summer waterfall seemed, in the rays of the sun, like a column of light, and the springs that issued from the sides of the more distant and lofty mountains shone with a steady, dazzling brightness, on which the eye could scarcely rest. The morning, indeed, was beautiful, the fields in bloom, and every thing cheerful. As the sun rose in the heavens, nature began gradually to awaken into life and happiness; nor was the natural grandeur of a Sabbath summer morning among these piles of magnificent mountains—nor its heartfelt, but more artificial beauty in the cultivated country, lost, even upon the unphilosophical "boys" of Findramore; so true is it, that such exquisite appearances of nature will force enjoyment upon the most uncultivated heart.
When they had arrived within two miles of the little town in which Mat Kavanagh was fixed, they turned off into a deep glen, a little to the left; and, after having seated themselves under a white-thorn which grew on the banks of a rivulet, they began to devise the best immediate measures to be taken.
"Boys," said Tim Dolan, "how will we manage now with this thief of a schoolmaster, at all? Come, Jack Traynor, you that's up to still-house work—escapin' and carryin' away stills from gaugers, the bloody villains! out wid yer spake, till we hear your opinion."
"Do ye think, boys," said Andy Connell, "that we could flatter him to come by fair mains?"
"Flatther him!" said Traynor; "and, by my sowl, if we flatther him at all, it must be by the hair of the head. No, no; let us bring him first, whether he will or not, an' ax his consent aftherwards!"
"I'll tell you what it is, boys," continued Connell, "I'll hould a wager, if you lave him to me, I'll bring him wid his own consint."
"No, nor sorra that you'll do, nor could do," replied Traynor: "for, along wid every thing else, he thinks he's not jist doated on by the Findramore people, being one of the Ballyscanlan tribe. No, no; let two of us go to his place, and purtind that we have other business in the fair of Clansallagh on Monday next, and ax him in to dhrink, for he'll not refuse that, any how; then, when he's half tipsy, ax him to convoy us this far; we'll then meet you here, an' tell him some palaver or other—sit down where we are now, and, afther making him dead dhrunk, hoist a big stone in the creel, and Mat in the sack, on the other side, wid his head out, and off wid him; and he will know neither act nor part about it till we're at Findramore."
Having approved of this project, they pulled out each a substantial complement of stout oaten bread, which served, along with the whiskey, for breakfast. The two persons pitched on for decoying Mat were Dolan and Traynor, who accordingly set out, full of glee at the singularity and drollness of their undertaking. It is unnecessary to detail the ingenuity with which they went about it, because, in consequence of Kavanagh's love of drink, very little ingenuity was necessary. One circumstance, however, came to light, which gave them much encouragement, and that was a discovery that Mat by no means relished his situation.
In the meantime, those who stayed behind in the glen felt their patience begin to flag a little, because of the delay made by the others, who had promised, if possible, to have the schoolmaster in the glen before two o'clock. But the fact was, that Mat, who was far less deficient in hospitality than in learning, brought them into his house, and not only treated them to plenty of whiskey, but made the wife prepare a dinner, for which he detained them, swearing, that except they stopped to partake of it, he would not convoy them to the place appointed. Evening was, therefore, tolerably far advanced, when they made their appearance at the glen, in a very equivocal state of sobriety—Mat being by far the steadiest of the three, but still considerably the worse for what he had taken. He was now welcomed by a general huzza; and on his expressing surprise at their appearance, they pointed to their horses, telling him that they were bound for the fair of Clansallagh, for the purpose of selling them. This was the more probable, as, when a fair occurs in Ireland, it is usual for cattle-dealers, particularly horse-jockeys, to effect sales, and "show" their horses on the evening before.
Mat now sat down, and was vigorously plied with strong poteen—songs were sung, stories told, and every device resorted to that was calculated to draw out and heighten his sense of enjoyment; nor were their efforts without success; for, in the course of a short time, Mat was free from all earthly care, being incapable of either speaking or standing.
"Now, boys," said Dolan, "let us do the thing clane an' dacent. Let you, Jem Coogan, Brian Murphy, Paddy Delany, and Andy O'Donnell, go back, and tell the wife and two childher a cock-and-a-bull story about Mat—say that he is coming to Findramore for good and all, and that'll be thruth, you know; and that he ordhered yez to bring her and them afther him; and we can come back for the furniture to-morrow."
A word was enough—they immediately set off; and the others, not wishing that Mat's wife should witness the mode of his conveyance, proceeded home, for it was now dusk. The plan succeeded admirably; and in a short time the wife and children, mounted behind the "boys" on the horses, were on the way after them to Findramore.
The reader is already aware of the plan they had adopted for translating Mat; but, as it was extremely original, I will explain it somewhat more fully. The moment the schoolmaster was intoxicated to the necessary point—that is to say, totally helpless and insensible—they opened the sack and put him in, heels foremost, tying it in such a way about his neck as might prevent his head from getting into it: thus avoiding the danger of suffocation. The sack, with Mat at full length in it, was then fixed to the pin of the straddle, so that he was in an erect posture during the whole journey. A creel was then hung at the other side, in which was placed a large stone, of sufficient weight to preserve an equilibrium; and, to prevent any accident, a droll fellow sat astride behind the straddle, amusing himself and the rest by breaking jokes upon the novelty of Mat's situation.
"Well, Mat, ma bouchal, how duv ye like your sitivation? I believe, for all your larnin', the Findramore boys have sacked you at last!"
"Ay!" exclaimed another, "he is sacked at last, in spite of his Matthew-maticks."
"An', be my sowks," observed Traynor, "he'd be a long time goin' up a Maypowl in the state he's in—his own snail would bate him."*
* This alludes to a question in Gough's Arithmetic, which is considered difficult by hedge schoolmasters.
"Yes," said another; "but he desarves credit for travelin' from Clansallagh to Findramore, widout layin' a foot to the ground—
"'Wan day wid Captain Whiskey I wrastled a fall, But faith I was no match for the captain at all— But faith I was no match for the captain at all, Though the landlady's measures they were damnable small. Tooral, looral, looral lorral lido.'
Whoo—hurroo! my darlings—success to the Findramore boys! Hurroo—hurroo—the Findramore boys for ever!"
"Boys, did ever ye hear the song Mat made on Ned Mullen's fight wid Jemmy Connor's gander? Well here is part of it, to the tune of 'Brian O'Lynn'—
'As Ned and the gander wor basting each other, I hard a loud cry from the gray goose, his mother; I ran to assist him, wid very great speed. But before I arrived the poor gander did bleed.
'Alas!' says the gander, 'I'm very ill-trated, For traicherous Mullen has me fairly defated; Bud had you been here for to show me fair play, I could leather his puckan around the lee bray.'
"Bravo! Matt," addressing the insensible schoolmaster—"success, poet. Hurroo for the Findramore boys! the Bridge boys for ever!"
They then commenced, in a tone of mock gravity, to lecture him upon his future duties—detailing the advantages of his situation, and the comforts he would enjoy among them—although they might as well have addressed themselves to the stone on the other side. In this manner they got along, amusing themselves at Mat's expense, and highly elated at the success of their undertaking. About three o'clock in the morning they reached the top of the little hill above the village, when, on looking back along the level stretch of road which I have already described, they noticed their companions, with Mat's wife and children, moving briskly after them. A general huzza now took place, which, in a few minutes, was answered by two or three dozen of the young folks, who were assembled in Barny Brady's waiting for their arrival. The scene now became quite animated—cheer after cheer succeeded—jokes, laughter, and rustic wit, pointed by the spirit of Brady's poteen, flew briskly about. When Mat was unsacked, several of them came up, and shaking him cordially by the hand, welcomed him among them. To the kindness of this reception, however, Mat was wholly insensible, having been for the greater part of the journey in a profound sleep. The boys now slipped the loop of the sack off the straddle-pin; and, carrying Mat into a farmer's house, they deposited him in a settle-bed, where he slept unconscious of the journey he had performed, until breakfast-time on the next morning. In the mean time, the wife and children were taken care of by Mrs. Connell, who provided them with a bed, and every other comfort which they could require.
The next morning, when Mat awoke, his first call was for a drink. I should have here observed, that Mrs. Kavanagh had been sent for by the good woman in whose house Mat had slept, that they might all breakfast and have a drop together, for they had already succeeded in reconciling her to the change. "Wather!" said Mat—"a drink of wather, if it's to be had for love or money, or I'll split wid druth—I'm all in a state of conflagration; and my head—by the sowl of Newton, the inventor of fluxions, but my head is a complete illucidation of the centrifugal motion, so it is. Tundher-an'-turf! is there no wather to be had? Nancy, I say, for God's sake, quicken yourself with the hydraulics, or the best mathematician in Ireland's gone to the abode of Euclid and Pythagoras, that first invented the multiplication table."
On cooling his burning blood with the "hydraulics," he again lay down with the intention of composing himself for another sleep; but his eye having noticed the novelty of his situation, he once more called Nancy.
"Nancy avourneen," he inquired, "will you be afther resolving me one single proposition.—Where am I at the present spaking? Is it in the Siminary at home, Nancy?" Nancy, in the mean time, had been desired to answer in the affirmative, hoping that if his mind was made easy on that point, he might refresh himself by another hour or two's sleep, as he appeared to be not at all free from the effects of his previous intoxication.
"Why, Mat, jewel, where else could you be, alannah, but at home? Sure isn't here Jack, an' Biddy, an' myself, Mat, agra, along wid me. Your head isn't well, but all you want is a good rousin' sleep."
"Very well, Nancy; very well, that's enough—quite satisfactory—quod erat demonstrandum. May all kinds of bad luck rest upon the Findramore boys, any way! The unlucky vagabonds—I'm the third they've done up. Nancy, off wid ye, like quicksilver for the priest."
"The priest! Why, Mat, jewel, what puts that into your head? Sure, there's nothing wrong wid ye, only the sup o' drink you tuck yesterday."
"Go, woman," said Mat; "did you ever know me to make a wrong calculation—I tell you I'm non compos mentis from head to heel. Head! by my sowl, Nancy, it'll soon be a capui mortuum wid me—I'm far gone in a disease they call an opthical delusion—the devil a thing less it is—me bein' in my own place, an' to think I'm lyin' in a settle bed; that there is a large dresser, covered wid pewter dishes and plates; and to crown all, the door on the wrong side of the house! Off wid ye, and tell his Reverence that I want to be anointed, and to die in pace and charity wid all men. May the most especial kind of bad luck light down upon you, Findramore, and all that's in you, both man and baste—you have given me my gruel along wid the rest; but, thank God, you won't hang me, any how! Off, Nancy, for the priest, till I die like a Christhan, in pace and forgiveness wid the world;—all kinds of hard fortune to them! Make haste, woman, if you expect me to die like a Christhan. If they had let me alone till I'd publish to the world my Treatise upon Conic Sections—but to be cut off on my march to fame! another draught of the hydraulics, Nancy, an' then for the priest—But see, bring Father Connell, the curate, for he understands something about Matthew-maticks; an' never heed Father Roger, for divil a thing he knows about them, not even the difference between a right line and a curve—in the page of histhory, to his everlasting disgrace, be the same recorded!"
"Mat," replied Nancy, scarcely preserving her gravity, "keep yourself from talkin', an' fall asleep, then you'll be well enough."
"Is there e'er a sup at all in the house?" said Mat; "if there is, let me get it; for there's an ould proverb, though it's a most unmathematical axiom as ever was invinted—'try a hair of the same dog that bit you;' give me a glass, Nancy, an' you can go for Father Connell after. Oh, by the sowl of Isaac, that invented fluxions, what's this for?"
A general burst-of laughter followed this demand and ejaculation; and Mat sat up once more in the settle, and examined the place with keener scrutiny. Nancy herself laughed heartily; and, as she handed him the full glass, entered into an explanation of the circumstances attending his translation. Mat, at all times rather of pliant disposition, felt rejoiced on finding that he was still compos mentis; and on hearing what took place, he could not help entering into the humor of the enterprise, at which he laughed as heartily as any of them.
"Mat," said, the farmer, and half a dozen of the neighbors, "you're a happy man, there's a hundred of the boys have a school-house half built for you this same blessed sunshiny mornin', while your lying at aise in your bed."
"By the sowl of Newton, that invented fluxions!" replied Mat, "but I'll take revenge for the disgrace you put upon my profession, by stringing up a schoolmaster among you, and I'll hang you all! It's death to steal a four-footed animal; but what do you desarve for stealin' a Christian baste, a two-legged schoolmaster without feathers, eighteen miles, and he not to know it?"
In the course of a short time Mat was dressed, and having found benefit from the "hair of the dog that bit him," he tried another glass, which strung his nerves, or, as he himself expressed it—"they've got the rale mathematical tinsion again." What the farmer said, however, about the school-house had been true. Early that morning all the growing and grown young men of Findramore and its "vircinity" had assembled, selected a suitable spot, and, with merry hearts, were then busily engaged in erecting a school-house for their general accomodation.
The manner of building hedge school-houses being rather curious, I will describe it. The usual spot selected for their erection is a ditch in the road-side; in some situation where there will be as little damp as possible. From such a spot an excavation is made equal to the size of the building, so that, when this is scooped out, the back side-wall, and the two gables are already formed, the banks being dug perpendicularly. The front side-wall, with a window in each side of the door, is then built of clay or green sods laid along in rows; the gables are also topped with sods, and, perhaps, a row or two laid upon the back side-wall, if it should be considered too low. Having got the erection of Mat's house thus far, they procured a scraw-spade, and repaired with a couple of dozen of cars to the next bog, from which they cut the light heathy surface in strips the length of the roof. A scraw-spade is an instrument resembling the letter T, with an iron plate at the lower end, considerably bent, and well adapted to the purpose for which it is intended. Whilst one party cut the scraws, another bound the couples and bauks* and a third cut as many green branches as were sufficient to wattle it. The couples, being bound, were raised—the ribs laid on—then the wattles, and afterwards the scraws.
* The couples are shaped like the letter A, and sustain the roof; the bauks, or rafters, cross them from one side to another like the line inside the letter.
Whilst these successive processes went forward, many others had been engaged all the morning cutting rushes; and the scraws were no sooner laid on, than half a dozen thatchers mounted the roof, and long before the evening was closed, a school-house, capable of holding near two hundred children, was finished. But among the peasantry no new house is ever put up without a hearth-warming and a dance. Accordingly the clay floor was paired—a fiddler procured—Barny Brady and his stock of poteen sent for; the young women of the village and surrounding neighborhood attended in their best finery; dancing commenced—and it was four o'clock the next morning when the merry-makers departed, leaving Mat a new home and a hard floor, ready for the reception of his scholars.
Business now commenced. At nine o'clock the next day Mat's furniture was settled in a small cabin, given to him at a cheap rate by one of the neighboring farmers; for, whilst the school-house was being built, two men, with horses and cars, had gone to Clansallagh, accompanied by Nancy, and removed the furniture, such as it was, to their new residence. Nor was Mat, upon the whole, displeased at what had happened; for he was now fixed in a flourishing country—fertile and well cultivated; nay, the bright landscape which his school-house commanded was sufficient in itself to reconcile him to his situation. The inhabitants were in comparatively good circumstances; many of them wealthy, respectable farmers, and capable of remunerating him very decently for his literary labors; and what was equally flattering, there was a certainty of his having a numerous and well-attended school in a neighborhood with whose inhabitants he was acquainted.
Honest, kind-hearted Paddy!—pity that you should ever feel distress or hunger—pity that you should be compelled to seek, in another land, the hard-earned pittance by which you keep the humble cabin over your chaste wife and naked children! Alas! what noble materials for composing a national character, of which humanity might be justly proud, do the lower orders of the Irish possess, if raised and cultivated by an enlightened education! Pardon me, gentle reader, for this momentary ebullition; I grant I am a little dark now. I assure you, however, the tear of enthusiastic admiration is warm on my eye-lids, when I remember the flitches of bacon, the sacks of potatoes, the bags of meal, the miscowns of butter, and the dishes of eggs—not omitting crate after crate of turf which came in such rapid succession to Mat Kavanagh, during the first week on which he opened his school. Ay, and many a bottle of stout poteen, when
"The eye of the gauger saw it not,"
was, with a sly, good-humored wink, handed over to Mat, or Nancy, no matter which, from under the comfortable drab jock, with velvet-covered collar, erect about the honest, ruddy face of a warm, smiling farmer, or even the tattered frieze of a poor laborer—anxious to secure the attention of the "masther" to his little "Shoneen," whom, in the extravagance of his ambition, he destined to "wear the robes as a clargy." Let no man say, I repeat, that the Irish are not fond of education.
In the course of a month Mat's school was full to the door posts, for, in fact, he had the parish to himself—many attending from a distance of three, four, and five miles. His merits, however, were believed to be great, and his character for learning stood high, though unjustly so: for a more superficial, and at the same time, a more presuming dunce never existed; but his character alone could secure him a good attendance; he, therefore, belied the unfavorable prejudices against the Findramore folk, which had gone abroad, and was a proof, in his own person, that the reason of the former schoolmasters' miscarriage lay in the belief of their incapacity which existed among the people. But Mat was one of those showy, shallow fellows, who did not lack for assurance.
The first step a hedge schoolmaster took, on establishing himself in a school, was to write out, in his best copperplate hand, a flaming advertisement, detailing, at full length, the several branches he professed himself capable of teaching. I have seen many of these—as who that is acquainted with Ireland has not?—and, beyond all doubt, if the persons that issued them were acquainted with the various heads recapitulated, they must have been buried in the most profound obscurity, as no man but a walking Encyclopaedia—an admirable Crichton—could claim an intimacy with them, embracing, as they often did, the whole circle of human knowledge. 'Tis true, the vanity of the pedagogue had full scope in these advertisements, as there was none to bring him to an account, except some rival, who could only attack him on those practical subjects which were known to both. Independently of this, there was a good-natured collusion between them on those points which were beyond their knowledge, inasmuch as they were not practical but speculative, and by no means involved their character or personal interests. On the next Sunday, therefore, after Mat's establishment at Findrainore, you might see a circle of the peasantry assembled at the chapel door, perusing, with suitable reverence and admiration on their faces, the following advertisement; or, perhaps, Mat himself, with a learned, consequential air, in the act of "expounding" it to them.
"Mr. Matthew Kavanagh, Philomath and' Professor of the Learned Languages, begs leave to inform the Inhabitants of Findramore and' its vicinity, that he lectures on the following branches of Education, in his Seminary at the above-recited place:—
"Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, upon altogether new principles, hitherto undiscovered by any excepting himself, and for which he expects a Patent from Trinity College, Dublin; or, at any rate, from Squire Johnston, Esq., who paternizes many of the pupils; Book-keeping, by single and double entry—Geometry, Trigonometry, Stereometry, Mensuration, Navigation, Guaging, Surveying, Dialling, Astronomy, Astrology, Austerity, Fluxions, Geography, ancient and modern—Maps, the Projection of the Sphere—Algebra, the Use of the Globes, Natural and Moral Philosophy, Pneumatics, Optics, Dioptics, Catroptics, Hydraulics, Erostatics, Geology, Glorification, Divinity, Mythology, Medicinality, Physic, by theory only, Metaphysics practically, Chemistry, Electricity, Galvanism, Mechanics, Antiquities, Agriculture, Ventilation, Explosion, etc.
"In Classics—Grammar, Cordery, AEsop's Fables, Erasmus' Colloquies, Cornelius Nepos, Phaedrus, Valerius Maximus, Justin, Ovid, Sallust, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Terence, Tully's Offices, Cicero, Manouverius Turgidus, Esculapius, Rogerius, Satanus Nigrus, Quinctilian, Livy, Thomas Aquinas, Cornelius Agrippa, and Cholera Morbus.
"Greek Grammar, Greek Testament, Lucian, Homer, Sophocles, AEschylus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and the Works of Alexander the Great; the manners, habits, customs, usages, and the meditations of the Grecians; the Greek Digamma resolved, Prosody, Composition, both in prose and verse, and Oratory, in English, Latin and Greek; together with various other branches of learning and scholastic profundity—quoi enumerare longum est—along with Irish Radically, and a small taste of Hebrew upon the Masoretic text.
"Matthew Kavanagh, Philomath." (* See note at the end of this sketch.)
Having posted this document upon the hapel-door, and in all the public places and cross roads of the parish, Mat considered himself as having done his duty. He now began to teach, and his school continued to increase to his heart's content, every day bringing him fresh scholars. In this manner he flourished till the beginning of winter, when those boys, who, by the poverty of their parents, had been compelled to go to service to the neighboring farmers, flocked to him in numbers, quite voracious for knowledge. An addition was consequently built to the school-house, which was considerably too small; so that, as Christmas approached, it would be difficult to find a more numerous or merry establishment under the roof of a hedge school. But it is time to give an account of its interior.
The reader will then be pleased to picture to himself such a house as I have already described—in a line with the hedge; the eave of the back roof within a foot of the ground behind it; a large hole exactly in the middle of the "riggin'," as a chimney; immediately under which is an excavation in the floor, burned away by a large fire of turf, loosely heaped together. This is surrounded by a circle of urchins, sitting on the bare earth, stones, and hassocks, and exhibiting a series of speckled shins, all radiating towards the fire, like sausages on a Poloni dish. There they are—wedged as close as they can sit; one with half a thigh off his breeches—another with half an arm off his tattered coat—a third without breeches at all, wearing, as a substitute, a piece of his mother's old petticoat, pinned about his loins—a fourth, no coat—a fifth, with a cap on him, because he has got a scald, from having sat under the juice of fresh hung bacon—a sixth with a black eye—a seventh two rags about his heels to keep his kibes clean—an eighth crying to get home, because he has got a headache, though it may be as well to hint, that there is a drag-hunt to start from beside his father's in the course of the day. In this ring, with his legs stretched in a most lordly manner, sits, upon a deal chair, Mat himself, with his hat on, basking in the enjoyment of unlimited authority. His dress consists of a black coat, considerably in want of repair, transferred to his shoulders through the means of a clothes-broker in the county-town; a white cravat, round a large stuffing, having that part which comes in contact with the chin somewhat streaked with brown—a black waistcoat, with one or two "tooth-an'-egg" metal buttons sewed on where the original had fallen off—black corduroy inexpressibles, twice dyed, and sheep's-gray stockings. In his hand is a large, broad ruler, the emblem of his power, the woful instrument of executive justice, and the signal of terror to all within his jurisdiction. In a corner below is a pile of turf, where on entering, every boy throws his two sods, with a hitch from under his left arm. He then comes up to the master, catches his forelock with finger and thumb, and bobs down his head, by way of making him a bow, and goes to his seat. Along the walls on the ground is a series of round stones, some of them capped with a straw collar or hassock, on which the boys sit; others have bosses, and many of them hobs—a light but compact kind of boggy substance found in the mountains. On these several of them sit; the greater number of them, however, have no seats whatever, but squat themselves down, without compunction, on the hard floor. Hung about, on wooden pegs driven into the walls, are the shapeless yellow "caubeens" of such as can boast the luxury of a hat, or caps made of goat or hare's skin, the latter having the ears of the animal rising ludicrously over the temples, or cocked out at the sides, and the scut either before or behind, according to the taste or the humor of the wearer. The floor, which is only swept every Saturday, is strewed over with tops of quills, pens, pieces of broken slate, and tattered leaves of "Reading made Easy," or fragments of old copies. In one corner is a knot engaged at "Fox and Geese," or the "Walls of Troy" on their slates; in another, a pair of them are "fighting bottles," which consists in striking the bottoms together, and he whose bottle breaks first, of course, loses. Behind the master is a third set, playing "heads and points"—a game of pins. Some are more industriously employed in writing their copies, which they perform seated on the ground, with their paper on a copy-board—a piece of planed deal, the size of the copy, an appendage now nearly exploded—their cheek-bones laid within half an inch of the left side of the copy, and the eye set to guide the motion of the hand across, and to regulate the straightness of the lines and the forms of the letters. Others, again, of the more grown boys, are working their sums with becoming industry. In a dark corner are a pair of urchins thumping each other, their eyes steadily fixed on the master, lest he might happen to glance in that direction. Near the master himself are the larger boys, from twenty-two to fifteen—shaggy-headed slips, with loose-breasted shirts lying open about their bare chests; ragged colts, with white, dry, bristling beards upon them, that never knew a razor; strong stockings on their legs; heavy brogues, with broad, nail-paved soles; and breeches open at the knees. Nor is the establishment without a competent number of females. These were, for the most part, the daughters of wealthy farmers, who considered it necessary to their respectability, that they should not be altogether illiterate; such a circumstance being a considerable drawback, in the opinion of an admirer, from the character of a young woman for whom he was about to propose—a drawback, too, which was always weighty in proportion to her wealth or respectability.
Having given our readers an imperfect sketch of the interior of Mat's establishment, we will now proceed, however feebly, to represent him at work—with all the machinery of the system in full operation.
"Come, boys, rehearse—(buz, buz, buz)—I'll soon be after calling up the first spelling lesson—(buz, buz, buz)—then the mathematicians—book-keepers—Latinists and Grecians, successfully. (Buz, buz, buz)—Silence there below!—your pens! Tim Casey, isn't this a purty hour o' the day for you to come into school at; arraix, and what kept you, Tim? Walk up wid yourself here, till we have a confabulation together; you see I love to be talking to you.
"Sir, Larry Branagen, here; he's throwing spits at me out of his pen."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"By my sowl, Larry, there's a rod in steep for you."
"Fly away, Jack—fly away, Jill; come again, Jack—"
"I had to go to Paddy Nowlan's for to-baccy, sir, for my father." (Weeping with his hand knowingly across his face—one eye laughing at his comrades.)—
"You lie, it wasn't."
"If you call me a liar agin, I'll give you a dig in the mug."
"It's not in your jacket."
"Behave yourself; ha! there's the masther looking at you—ye'll get it now."—
"None at all, Tim? And she's not after sinding an excuse wid you? What's that undher your arm?"
"My Grough, sir."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"Silence, boys. And, you blackguard Lilliputian, you, what kept you away till this?"
"One bird pickin', two men thrashin'; one bird pickin', two men thrashin'; one bird pickin'—"
"Sir, they're stickn' pins in me, here."
"Who is, Briney?"
"I don't know, sir, they're all at it."
"Boys, I'll go down to yez."
"I can't carry him, sir, he'd be too heavy for me: let Larry Toole do it, he's stronger nor me; any way, there, he's putting a corker pin in his mouth."*—(Buz, buz, buz.)
* In the hedge schools it was usual for the unfortunate culprit about to be punished to avail himself of all possible stratagems that were calculated to diminish his punishment. Accordingly, when put upon another boy's back to be horsed, as it was termed, he slipped a large pin, called a corker, in his mouth, and on receiving the first blow stuck it into the neck of the boy who carried him. This caused the latter to jump and bounce about in such a manner that many of the blows directed at his burthen missed their aim. It was an understood thing, however, that the boy carrying the felon should aid him in every way in his power, by yielding, moving', and shifting about, so that it was only when he seemed to abet the master that the pin was applied to him.
"Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo—I'll never stay away agin, sir; indeed I won't, sir. Oh, sir, clear, pardon me this wan time; and if ever you cotch me doing the like agin, I'll give you lave to welt the sowl out of me."—(Buz buz, buz.). "Behave yourself, Barny Byrne."
"I'm not touching you."
"Yes, you are; didn't you make me blot my Copy?"
"Ho, by the livin', I'll pay you goin' home for this."
"Hand me the taws."
"Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo—what'll I do, at all at all! Oh, sir dear, sir dear, sir dear—hoo-hoo-hoo."
"Did she send no message, good or bad, before I lay on?"
"Oh, not a word, sir, only that my father killed a pig yestherday, and he wants you to go up to-day at dinner-time."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"It's time to get lave—it isn't, it is—it isn't, it is," etc.
"You lie, I say, your faction never was able to fight ours; didn't we lick all your dirty breed in Builagh-battha fair?"
"Silence there."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"Will you meet us on Sathurday, and we'll fight it out clane!"
"Ha-ha-ha! Tim, but you got a big fright, any how: whist, ma bouchal, sure I was only jokin' you; and sorry I'd be to bate your father's son, Tim. Come over, and sit beside myself at the fire here. Get up, Micky Donoghue, you big, burnt-shinn'd spalpeen you, and let the dacent boy sit at the fire."
"Hulabaloo hoo-hoo-hoo—to go to give me such a welt, only for sitting at the fire, and me brought turf wid me."
"At dinner time, is id?"
"Faith, the dacent strain was always in the same family."—(Buz, buz, buz.)—
"Horns, horns, cock horns: oh, you up'd vrid them, you lifted your fingers—that's a mark, now—hould your face, till I blacken you!"
"Do you call thim two sods, Jack Laniran? why, 'tis only one long one broke in the middle; but you must make it up tomorrow. Jack, how is your mother's tooth?—did she get it pulled out yet?"
"Well, tell her to come to me, and I'll write a charm for it, that'll cure her.—What kept you' till now, Paddy Magouran?"
"Couldn't come any sooner, sir."
"You couldn't, sir—and why, sir, couldn't you come any sooner', sir?"
"See, sir, what Andy Nowlan done to my copy."—(Buz, buz, buz.)—
"Silence, I'll massacree yez if yez don't make less noise."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"I was down with Mrs. Kavanagh, sir."
"You were, Paddy—an' Paddy, ma bouchal, what war you doing there, Paddy?"
"Masther, sir, spake to Jem Kenny here; he made my nose bleed."—
"I was br ingin' her a layin' hen, sir, that my mother promised her at mass on Sunday last."
"Ah, Paddy, you're a game bird, yourself, wid your layin' hens; you're as full o' mischief as an egg's full o' mate—(omnes—ha, ha, ha, ha!)—Silence, boys—what are you laughin' at?—ha, ha, ha!—Paddy, can you spell Nebachodnazure for me?"
"No, nor a better scholar, Paddy, could not do that, ma bouchal; but I'll spell it for you. Silence, boys—whist, all of yez, till I spell Nebachodnazure for Paddy Magouran. Listen; and you yourself, Paddy, are one of the letthers:
A turf and a clod spells Nebachod— A knife and a razure, spells Nebachodnazure— Three pair of boots and five pair of shoes— Spells Nebachodnazure, the king of the Jews.'
Now, Paddy, that's spelling Nebachodnazure by the science of Ventilation; but you'll never go that deep, Paddy."—
"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"Is that the way you ax me, you vagabone?"
"I want to go out, sir,"—(pulling down the fore lock.)
"Yes, that's something dacenter; by the sowl of Newton, that invinted fluxions, if ever you forgot to make a bow again, I'll nog the enthrils out of you—wait till the Pass comes in."
Then comes the spelling lesson. "Come, boys, stand up to the spelling lesson."
"Mickey," says one urchin, "show me your book, till I look at my word. I'm fifteenth."
"Wait till I see my own."
"Why do you crush for?"
"That's my place."
"No, it's not."
"Sir, spake to————-I'll tell the masther."
"What's the matther there?"
"Sir, he won't let me into my place."
"I'm before you."
"No you're not."
"I say, I am."
"You lie, pug-face: ha! I called you pug-face, tell now if you dare."
"Well boys, down with your pins in the book: who's king?"
"I am, sir."
"I am prince, sir."
"Tag rag and bob-tail, fall into your places."
"I've no pin, sir."
"Well down with you to the tail——now, boys."*
* At the spelling lesson the children were obliged to put down each a pin, he who held the first place got them all with the exception of the queen—that is the boy who held the second place! who got two; and the prince, the third who got one. The last boy in the class was called Bobtail.
Having gone through the spelling-task, it was Mat's custom to give out six hard words selected according to his judgment—as a final test; but he did not always confine himself to that. Sometimes he would put a number of syllables arbitrarily together, forming a most heterogeneous combination of articulate sounds.
"Now, boys, here's a deep word, that'll thry yez: come Larry spell me-mo-man-dran-san-ti-fi-can-du-ban-dan-li-al-i-ty, or mis-an-thro-po-mor-phi-ta-ni-a-nus-mi-ca-li-a-lioy;—that's too hard for you, is it? Well, then, spell phthisic. Oh, that's physic you're spellin'. Now, Larry, do you know the difference between physic and phthisic?"
"Well, I'll expound it: phthisic, you see, manes—whisht, boys: will yez hould yer tongues there—phthisic, Larry, signifies—that is, phthisic—mind, it's not physic I'm expounding, but phthisic—boys, will yez stop yer noise there—signifies——but, Larry, it's so deep a word in larnin' that I should draw it out on a slate for you. And now I remimber, man alive, you're not far enough on yet to understand it: but what's physic, Larry?"
"Isn't that sir, what my father tuck the day he got sick, sir?"
"That's the very thing, Larry: it has what larned men call a medical property, and resembles little ricketty Dan Reilly there—it retrogrades. Och! Och! I'm the boy that knows things—you see now how I expounded them two hard words for yez, boys—don't yez?"
"Yes, sir," etc., etc.
"So, Larry, you haven't the larnin' for that either: but here's an 'asier one—spell me Ephabridotas (Epaphroditas)—you can't! hut! man—you're a big dunce, entirely, that little shoneen Sharkey there below would sack. God be wid the day when I was the likes of you—it's I that was the bright gorsoon entirely—and so sign was on it, when a great larned traveler—silence boys, till I tell yez this [a dead silence]—from Thrinity College, all the way in Dublin, happened to meet me one day—seeing the slate and Gough, you see, undher my arm, he axes me—' Arrah, Mat,' says he, 'what are you in?' says he. 'Faix, I'm in my breeches, for one thing,' says I, off hand—silence childhre, and don't laugh so loud—(ha, ha, ha!) So he looks closer at me: 'I see that,' says he; 'but what are you reading?' 'Nothing at all at all,' says I; 'bad manners to the taste, as you may see, if you've your eyesight.' 'I think,' says he, 'you'll be apt to die in your breeches;' and set spurs to a fine saddle mare he rid—faith, he did so—thought me so cute—(omnes—ha, ha, ha!) Whisht, boys, whisht; isn't it a terrible thing that I can't tell yez a joke, but you split your sides laughing at it—(ha, ha, ha!)—don't laugh so loud, Barney Casey."—(ha, ha, ha!)
Barney.—"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"Go, avick, you'll be a good scholar yet, Barney. Faith, Barney knows whin to laugh, any how."
"Well, Larry, you can't spell Ephabridotas?—thin, here's a short weeshy one, and whoever spells it will get the pins;—spell a red rogue wid three letters. You, Micky! Dan? Jack? Natty? Alick? Andy? Pettier? Jim? Tim? Pat? Body? you? you? you? Now, boys, I'll hould you that my little Andy here, that's only beginning the Rational Spelling Book, bates you all; come here, Andy, alanna: now, boys, If he bates you, you 'must all bring him a little miscaun of butter between two kale leaves, in the mornin', for himself; here, Andy avourneen, spell red rogue with three letthers."
Andy.—"M, a, t—Mat."
"No, no, avick, that's myself, Andy; it's red rogue, Andy—hem!—F—."
"F, o, x—fox."
"That's a man, Andy. Now boys, mind what you owe Andy in the mornin, God, won't yez?"
"I will, sir."
"And I will, sir."
"And so will I sir," etc., etc, etc
I know not whether the Commissioners of Education found the monitorial system of instruction in such of the old hedge schools as maintained an obstinate resistance to the innovations of modern plans. That Bell and Lancaster deserve much credit for applying and extending the principle (speaking without any reference to its merits) I do not hesitate to grant; but it is unquestionably true, that the principle was reduced to practice in Irish hedge schools long before either of these worthy gentlemen were in existence. I do not, indeed, at present remember whether or not they claim it as a discovery, or simply as an adaptation of a practice which experience, in accidental cases, had found useful, and which they considered capable of more extensive benefit. I remember many instances, however, in which it was applied—and applied, in my opinion, though not as a permanent system, yet more judiciously than it is at present. I think it a mistake to suppose that silence, among a number of children in school, is conducive to the improvement either of health or intellect, that the chest and the lungs are benefited by giving full play to the voice, I think will not be disputed; and that a child is capable of more intense study and abstraction in the din of a school-room, than in partial silence (if I may be permitted the word), is a fact, which I think any rational observation would establish. There is something cheering and cheerful in the noise of friendly voices about us—it is a restraint taken off the mind, and it will run the lighter for it—it produces more excitement, and puts the intellect in a better frame for study. The obligation to silence, though it may give the master more ease, imposes a new moral duty upon the chil—the sense of which must necessarily weaken his application. Let the boy speak aloud, if he pleases—that is, to a certain pitch; let his blood circulate; let the natural secretions take place, and the physical effluvia be thrown off by a free exercise of voice and limbs: but do not keep him dumb and motionless as a statue—his blood and his intellect both in a state of stagnation, and his spirit below zero. Do not send him in quest of knowledge alone, but let him have cheerful companionship on his way; for, depend upon it, that the man who expects too much either in discipline or morals from a boy, is not in my opinion, acquainted with human nature. If an urchin titter at his own joke, or that of another—if he give him a jab of a pin under the desk, imagine not that it will do him an injury, whatever phrenologists may say concerning the organ of destructiveness. It is an exercise to the mind, and he will return to his business with greater vigor and effect. Children are not men, nor influenced by the same motives—they do not reflect, because their capacity for reflection is imperfect; so is their reason: whereas on the contrary, their faculties for education (excepting judgment, which strengthens my argument) are in greater vigor in youth than in manhood. The general neglect of this distinction is, I am convinced, a stumbling-block in the way of youthful instruction, though it characterizes all our modern systems. We should never forget that they are children; nor should we bind them by a system, whose standard is taken from the maturity of human intellect. We may bend our reason to theirs, but we cannot elevate their capacity to our own. We may produce an external appearance, sufficiently satisfactory to ourselves; but, in the meantime, it is probable that the child may be growing in hypocrisy, and settling down into the habitual practice of a fictitious character.