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Section 19

Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.


Wednesday, July 21, 1897


‘Tis three o’clock, and to the call,
The children turning, face the wall,
And strive to write in copy books,
Straight marks, big o’s, and quaint pothooks;
Or copy out the teacher’s rhyme,
Which yet survives the lapse of time-
"Many men of many minds,
Many birds of many kinds."-
Each pupil, then, who came to school,
Must have his plummet, quill and rule;
To guide in writing, coarse or fine;
Nor boys nor girls nor teachers then,
Had ever seen metalic pen.
In days of yore, all drove the quill,
A few there are who use it still,
And in its ancient make and dress,
It did not always smile and bless;
But like some naughty truant boy,
Oft scratched and sputtered to annoy;
And then it sought the teacher’s care,
Who, skilful, did its nib repair.
And so the children in their seat,
Whose pride was in their writing neat,
Exclaimed, in turning, there and then;
"Please, master, won’t you mend my pen?"
And this all through that busy hour
To tax the teacher’s grace and power.


In honor of the Long Ago,
When wheels of life turned very slow;
I may rebuke these recent days,
In which we hear so much of praise,
And bid the young revere the past,
When people lived not quite so fast.
The writers then, who used the quill,
Could write and flourish with great skill;
And letters then were not a scrawl,
Of hieroglyphics in a brawl;
But every word was plain and neat,
And all the i’s and t’s complete,
And friendly letters, then, to read,
Were pened so plain, there was no need,
To raise the reader’s ardent ire,
And vow to fling them in the fire.


The writing done, the order then,
Was close the looks and cleanse the pen,
And on the bench around to turn,
Their spelling lessons then to learn.
Responding to this welcome call,
The pupils now, both large and small,
High mounted on their squeaking seat,
With nodding heads, and swinging feet,
And tongues let loose at either end,
With tumult made the rafters rend;
While Bedlam, with exulting rule,
Proud swayed his sceptre o’er the school.
Like soldiers,-next, to close the day,
That brought the hours of welcome play,-
With heads erect, from desk to door,
They stand in line upon the floor;
And to a crack their toes are fixed;
The large and small together mixed.
The teacher now, with book in hand,
Before the pupils takes his stand,
And gives the spellings to the class,
While up and down the urchins pass,
From tail to head or head to tail,
According as they pass, or fail.

NOTES. – At this period I do not remember seeing paper in any other shape than foolscap. From this kind of paper the parents made the copy books for their children, and on it wrote their letters, and from it made their memorandum books. The paper was not ruled. Lead pencils were not in common use and the boys made the plummets for ruling the paper by melting the sheet lead that came as lining of tea chests. Steel pens began to come in use in England about 1820 and in 1830 the wholesale price of a gross was seven pounds four shillings sterling or nearly $36.00. The pens were made from goose quills and were then a domestic production of almost every home. The quills were much improved by being placed for a while in a hot bath of oil. By this process they were clarified or made semi-transparent. The teachers not only made and mended the pens but also set the copies, which was often done after school hours. Much more care was given to writing then, than at present, both in the holding of the pen and shaping the letters. There was no ready made ink in the market. It was made at home from ink powders, or from logwood, or soft maple bark and sulphate of iron. In spelling no exercises were given from any of the reading lessons. A part of the reading book, which began with the alphabet and ended with a complete system of English grammar, was devoted to graded spelling lessons from ba to involuntarily, circumnavigation, valitudinarian, etc. Spelling was always the concluding exercise of the day and the lesson was prepared by old and young, all studying aloud, and rattling off the syllables as fast as their tongues could articulate; - a simple mechanical use of the eyes and tongue with little or no exercise of the intellect.