Some Cambridge schools in the olden time.
The old town records tell us that our ancestors had a school where grammar, that is, Latin, and English were taught, as well as writing and ciphering.
Mr. Elijah Corlet
was its master between forty and fifty years, and “is praised in that he hath very well approved himself for his abilities, dexterity and painfulness in teaching.”
That word “painfulness” is a good one.
Our present Corlett school in the Belmont district is so named in honor of this prophetic Elijah, the forerunner of the many who since his day have approved themselves for their abilities, dexterity and painfulness.
The old schoolhouse stood on the westerly side of Holyoke street about half way between Harvard and Mount Auburn streets, on a lot owned by President Dunster
of the college.
It was used for school purposes till 1796, then for a printing office.
A second, later schoolhouse was on the southerly side of Garden street, about one hundred feet from Appian Way and a little west of the Episcopal church.
This building was twenty feet in width by twenty-six in length, and was erected many years after Mr. Corlet
had laid aside his grammar and
It is noticeable that many schools now cluster not far from this spot — the Washington School, the Cambridge School
, one in Mason street and one or more in Appian Way.
The stated fees being quite insufficient for Mr. Corlet
's support, special grants were made him. One of ten pounds was ordered in 1680.
The record reads: “It was agreed at a meeting of the whole town, that there should be land sold of the common for the gratifying of Mr. Corlet
for his pains in keeping of a school in the town; the sum of ten pounds if it can be attained, provided it shall not prejudice the common.”
The “common” probably means any undivided lands held in common by the proprietors of the town.
The land actually sold under authority of this order was on the south side of Charles River
As Mr. Corlet
, in addition to his other duties, prepared Indians for college, this “gratifying” does not seem excessive.
is then, in 1680, provided with a schoolhouse and a schoolmaster.
Now as to pupils.
In that year there were nine, perhaps a fair proportion as compared with that college class which, as we know on high poetical authority, consisted of “the nephew of the President
, and the Professor
To complete the proper school equipment, we find an order, “to see to the educating of children as follows: it is ordered, that John Bridge shall take care of all the families of that side the highway his own house stands on; Sergeant Winshepe
is to see to the families on the other side and all the families in the lane going from the meetinghouse down to the river and so Watertown-ward; George Cooke
to take care of all the families between
the way appointed for Russell
to see to [Russell's directions are worn off from the record and cannot be read] and the highway going from the meeting house into the neck.”
All Dana Hill
was part of the Neck, and the meeting house was about where Dane Hall now is. The record continues-“My brother Oakes all on the other side the river.”
Is not this a rudimentary school committee?
They cannot be mere truant officers.
In after years we have regular annual appointments of reverends and honorables, with bills from the Anchor Tavern
or other inn for the dinner with which their labors were invariably alleviated.
At these dinners, liquors of different kinds were served, according to the custom of the times.
Having thus established our school system on a permanent basis, before leaping over a period of a century and a half to alight upon personal reminiscences, let us pause for a moment to think of the incredulous distaste with which Madame Dunster
and other ladies of her day would have regarded any true prophecy of the present age of bicyles, electric cars, and collegiate education of women.
It is not quite a hundred years since it was ordered that a grammar school should be maintained all the year round, and a school for girls for four months in a year.
It was near the beginning of the century that the first public school was established in Cambridge Port, on School street near Winsor.
A second, dating from 1809, was on Franklin street about midway between Magazine and Pearl streets.
There was another school, spoken of seventy years ago as the C. P. P. G., which, being interpreted, is the Cambridge
Port Private Grammar,
and this has no slight claim to remembrance.
James Freeman Clarke
was at one time its principal, and Dr. Holmes
has touched it with his luminous pencil in one of his papers in the Atlantic
. Besides the Poet-Autocrat it reckoned among its pupils Richard H. Dana
, who was by and by to write his “Two years before the Mast,” and later to become eminent in many directions; and Margaret Fuller
, the most remarkable woman that Cambridge
It is doubtful if any or all of our existing grammar schools have “names to conjure with” like these of Holmes
and Margaret Fuller
Yet the C. P. P. G. did not count hundreds: we were but thirty.
Those of us who rank among the undistinguished were of course mighty and most honorable, howbeit as is said in the Book
of Samuel, we “attained not unto the first three.”
Our schoolhouse stood on the south side of Austin street, about midway between Temple and Prospect streets. Nearly opposite were the houses of Dr. Chaplin
and Judge Fay
with gardens on each side extending from Prospect street to Inman
and back almost to Harvard street. Dr. Chaplin
was a then celebrated physician.
Several cottages in the garden were occupied by his insane patients whom the boys and girls in the school opposite used to see walking about the grounds, or riding forth, a melancholy troop of six or eight.
They were always mounted on white horses, sometimes with the stately doctor at their head, oftener with an attendant.
This man was an early and zealous abolitionist, and as for some reason now forgotten the school had taken a dislike to him, among its lessons were laid up the resolutions not “to go crazy,” even for the sake of riding on white
horses; and on no account to be abolitionists.
But this was seventy years ago.
As a specimen of this man's zeal, it is related that taking advantage one Sunday of the absence of his minister, Dr. Stearns
, who afterwards went to Amherst College as president, he attempted to introduce the abhorred doctrine into the pulpit.
Now it was in those times the custom for the members of the congregation who were afflicted in mind, body or estate, to send written requests to the minister officiating, that prayer might be offered on their behalf.
The phraseology might be “Mr. Bimelech Stone
desires the prayers of the church, the same being very weak and low” ; or “Mrs. Tremor
desires prayers for the sudden death of her husband, that it may be sanctified to her everlasting good.”
On the way home, it would not be remarked by one hearer to another, that Mr. Stone
was very ill, or Mrs. Tremor
bereaved, but that they “had a note up.”
Sometimes the paper contained a suggestion to be acted upon without being read aloud.
The note Dr.
C. sent was meant to be of this kind.
These were the words: “There is a slaveholder in my pew; please to cut him up in the last prayer.”
But to turn from this digression to the public school which, to use Mrs. Burnett
's phrase, is “the one I knew the best of all,” viz., that founded in ZZZ
809,. of which I became a member somewhere in the twenties.
Though the schoolhouse was a building of two stories, only the lower one was occupied by the school.
The outer door opened into a little vestibule where were nails for hanging coats and hats; here too was another door to a stairway with which we had nothing to do. The schoolroom itself — there was but one (a fine contrast
to the spacious halls and classrooms of today) was furnished with clumsy desks or tables having a narrow shelf beneath and long benches.
It accommodated perhaps sixty children.
In the middle of the room was a huge stove for burning wood; also a long crack useful for keeping a class in line.
The floor above our room belonged to a lodge of Freemasons.
We never soared so high, but continued groundlings, as the phrase was in Addison
What sums we ciphered!
For it pleased the fates
To bind us close to slate pencils and slates,
Adams' Arithmetic before our eyes.
(He made it after he left Paradise.
We cannot fancy that in scenes Elysian
Adam and Eve knew ever Long Division.)
Oft-times we stood in rows with aspect solemn,
Convulsive adding up some figured column.
Sad grew one heart I knew, and ever sadder,
To find on every side a swifter adder.
And when sometimes a sultry south wind blew,
Our Baker found too hot his oven grew,
Sent out his living things by two and two,
As Noah from his ark was glad to do.
There sat the boys and ciphered in the shade,
And the soft air about their temples played.
Busy and happy ones; all smoothly went,
While with their tasks legitimate content,
But from the narrow way the least deflection
Is pretty sure of no remote detection.
The square is drawn; its characters you know,
Nine minor squares to fill with X or 0,
And he says, “Tit, tat, too,” who gets a row.
“Tit, tat,” says James, and marks it down, but hark
“Too,” shouts the master, and he makes his mark.
And looking backward, was it yesterday,
Or was it rather scores of years away,
When, standing up the vowel sounds to say,
“Long A in tater-gravy,” one began,
And smothered laughter through the circle ran.
At close of day the roguish Thurston found
That he could give aright one vowel sound;
Long O comes natural to the quivering lips,
When the long A in fate meets with short I in whips.
The principal of the school — in white flannel dressing gown not free from ink-spots caused by frequent wipings of his pen, with cowhide in hand, running with noiseless slippers along the tops of the desks to reach that boy in the far corner, unaware of his approach and now at work on the core of an apple-would no doubt give the scholars of to-day reason to suppose that the master had suddenly become crazy.
Other punishments besides the cowhide are now also obsolete.
No boy, for example, is now made to stand on a bench with a bag of unbleached cotton
tied over his head, and no girl has to wear a split stick shaped like a clothles-pin on her nose.
We are told that cleanliness is next to godliness, but it hardly follows that wearing a sort of imitation clothes-pin on one's nose is conducive to virtue.
But however new or odd or multiplied were our pains and penalties, they were looked upon as incidents in our daily life, to be avoided if possible, or to be borne with becoming fortitude.
Children do accept their belongings as part of the essential structure of the universe.
Much of a teacher's time was taken up with pen making and mending, for writing was well taught, and steel pens were still in the future.
Beneath the desk, ye small offenders, quick,
Where bits of quill and stings of conscience prick.
But there stands solitary on the floor,
One known among us as the monitor.
Caught whispering he was, soon after dinner,
And now he watches for another sinner;
Shortly he has one, and the two change places.
William is idle, Harriet makes faces,
Peter is laughing, Anne lets fall her maps;
So it goes on-an hour or two perhaps,
But seldom longer; sharp as Andrew looks,
He finds no eye raised from the proper books.
In vain he sudden whirls, east, west, north, south;
Sits a wise gravity on every mouth.
Back seats nor front, nor boys nor girls once vary
From studious diligence most exemplary;
Each pays great heed to his peculiar labors,
And no one sayeth aught unto his neighbors.
A model school: why surely at this rate
All soon will know enough to graduate.
This lasts till five o'clock. Alas!
The fate of him, unhappy sentinel.
Listen a tale Chinese: Where Yang-tse-kiang flows
There is a sort of folk, the story goes,
Who live on boats or rafts and keep a stock
Of ducks, tame ducks, for profit.
This, their flock
Daily goes out to eat what it can catch,
But home it comes to sleep and lay and hatch.
The summons is the ringing of a bell;
Each drake and duck and duckling knows it well,
And when they hear afar its nightly tinkling,
Whate'er may tempt, obey it in a twinkling.
They crowd, they push, fly o'er each other's backs,
And the whole river is alive with quacks.
The secret of this haste, this fluttering, skipping,
Is plain to see: the last duck gets a whipping.
School done, without a moment wasting,
Our flock poured out glad, careless, hasting,
But our last duck had a most thorough basting
O happy days and wise!
I need not tell
How hard we worked when “choosing sides” to spell.
Now wins the enemy, now our ranks swell;
'T is almost night, yet still the conflict rages,
And heavy batteries fire from Walker's pages;
Now here, now there, the favorite champion crosses,
Sometimes our gains are great, sometimes our losses.
But say, to them who, in life's earnest fight
For victory strive, brings any triumph quite
The overflowing, unalloyed delight,
The joy, as when our side spelled “phthisic” right?
My sketch were faulty, with entire omission
Of our great crowning glory, Exhibition.
Though scarce could you expect one of my age
All that was spoke in public on the stage
To recollect, yet Shylock's knife, Lochiel,
And Young Pretenders haunt the memory still;
And one named Norval of his Grampians vaunting,
And grinding organs — nor the monkey wanting.
One beau worth having I remember well;
Shall I confess?--the bow of William Tell.
Nor is it soon forgot how once a quarter
Sore trembled every mother's son and daughter.
The vain, the timid, all felt perturbation
Upon the morning of Examination.
For there would come that day strange visitors,
Part conscript fathers, part inquisitors,
Not men susceptible of mirth or pity,
Not friends and ministers — but the Committee.
How truly awful was the warning hum,
And the announcement, “Here they are, they come!”
The boys look bold and saucy, and each girl
Gives the last finish to her favorite curl.
They enter and bestow on either hand
A glance meant to be dignified and bland.
Now are our lessons weighed in the just steelyard--
And oft found wanting too-of Mr. Hilliard;
Now are the copies of each urchin wayward
'Neath the clear, searching eyes of Mr. Hayward.
There was a class that Whelpley's Compend used,
Whose talk historic our small brains confused.
Egyptian, Grecian, Roman facts we knew,
And Carthaginian; and we mixed them, too,
Like Seidlitz-powder papers, white and blue,
To the Committee then poured out the essence,
Which made a very pretty effervescence.
One of this class it was my hap to be.
To say the world's seven wonders came to me,
That I was not the eighth, 'twas plain to see.
Well I remember faltering on my tongue,
The hanging gardens of old Babel hung.
Failure was imminent.
Just then I heard
Soft whispered in my ear, the important word.
No classmate breathed it, but more kind than just
'T was gentle Whipple raised me from the dust;
My prisoned memory felt glad release,
And I went bravely on and “said my piece.”
Our trials o'er, “the chair” made an oration,
Found some improvement in our “pronounsation” ;
We heard the words “deportment,” “approbation,”
Took a long breath, and a whole week's vacation.
foregoing sketch gives the names of the three gentlemen composing the School Committee, as recalled by the present writer.
Could the wildest visionary dream there would come a time when a woman would be appointed “school committee man” ?