“A light to guide, a rod
To check the erring and reprove.”
(Wordsworth—“Ode to Duty")
Few of the many conversations I have had from time to time with old Willy have been more interesting than those upon the subject of schools and schoolmasters in the days when he was young.
In the early part of the nineteenth century education was conducted in a primitive fashion at Ardmuirland. In a small community, consisting almost entirely of Catholics, and those mostly in poor circumstances, a trained teacher was rarely to be found. In many country districts like ours the task of instructing the young devolved upon one or other of the better educated of the crofter class. For in those days even reading and writing—not to mention “counting,” or arithmetic, as we style it—constituted a liberal education in Ardmuirland, and many of the people were unable to boast of possessing either. Hence when one of the community was sufficiently versed in such accomplishments he was looked up to as a qualified instructor.
Willy had passed through the hands of more than one of such schoolmasters, and his recollections on the subject are interesting. The one who seems to have made the most impression upon his memory was a better informed man than is usually found in the class to which he belonged.
“Finlay Farquharson wes the best o’ them a’! There wes saxty or siventy bairns went to his school at Carnavruick when I wes a loon. He’d been to Ameriky, ye ken, sir, and I doot he’d brought back wi’ him a bit o’ the Yankee tongue. Faix! He had a lively tongue! He niver wanted his answer when he had to come oot wi’ it.”
Farquharson’s “Academy” was his little living-room—not over-spacious for such an assembly; but in those days no parental government legislated for so many cubic feet of space for each child, and they seemed to keep in health and strength in spite of that fact. The school assembled in what we may term the winter months only, which in Scotland may be reckoned as nearly two-thirds of the year. The remaining months were occupied in farming work both by master and scholars.