Page images

least be subject to some fixed rules and restraints. But till some attempt is made to put a stop to this evil at Eton, (as has been done at other public schools,) and the attempt is found to fail, we cannot allow this defence to be more than the excuse of a slothful and culpably negligent administration.

If, however, the experiment should be made under the present police and regulations of Eton, it would not have a fair trial. It is a rule in the management of this school that no testimony against any boy, except that of an assistant master, is admissible. Hence, although the head master may be in possession of evidence which would hang a man in any criminal court, he is unable to act, and his information goes for nothing. In this manner the difficulty of detection becomes very great; for, besides that the number of the tutors is small, and their time fully occupied, their persons are well known to the inhabitants of Eton and its neighbourbood, who naturally take part with the boys, and give them warning of the danger. We are hostile to the practice of espionage, both in states and schools; but we can see no reason why the director of a school should hesitate to profit by information on which ho cau rely, or suffer irregularities to continue, of the existence of which he is thoroughly assured.

The institution of an efficient system of rewards and punishments must have great influence in a school, as on all other collections of human beings. Nevertheless, both seem to have escaped the notice of the executive body of Eton. The incentive to industry, afforded by emulation and competition, does not exist; no places are taken, no prizes or distinctions of any sort conferred, except for Latin verses. Of late, indeed, by the munificence of the present Duke of Newcastle, a scholarship has been founded, which promises to go some way in supplying this deficiency, and must therefore have been hailed, by the masters of the school, as a most desirable institution. Still its operation cannot extend to the mass of the boys; and as long as promotion depends on seniority, not on merit, we despair of finding any motive which will be generally operative. The system of punishments is equally defective. For all offences, except the most trivial, whether for insubordination in or out of school, for inability to construe a lesson, or to say it by heart, for being discovered out of bounds, for absence from chapel or school,-in short, for any breach of the regulations of the school,-every boy, below the 6th form, whatever be bis age, is punished by flogging. This operation is performed, on the naked back, by the head master himself, who is always a gentleman of great abilities and acquirements, and sometimes of high dignity in the church. If the duties of an office should ever be executed by deputy, the work of flogging ought surely, in a public school, as in the army and navy, to be taken out of the hands of the head officer. We are, however, convinced that nothing but habit, which deadens the minds of honourable men to the impropriety and indecorum of such an exhibition, could have concealed from them the inexpediency of the mode of punishment itself. It is an essential requisite of every good punishment, that the pain of it should increase, as the number of inflictions increase, or, to speak learnedly, that its intensity should vary directly as its quantity, Thus it is a disagreeable thing to be imprisoned in a solitary dungeon for one day; but is more than twice as disagreeable to be so imprisoned for two days; for a week, painful in the extreme; for a year, it would drive most people to distraction. Solitary confinement is, therefore, a good punishment. But with flogging, the case is just reversed. This punishment is not inflicted at Eton so severely as to cause lasting pain, or to disable the body. Beyond the momentary smart, which few boys are sufficiently tender to fear, its efficacy is alone derived from the disgrace and ridicule which attend it. Now, for the first time, a boy feels considerable shame, and so for the second and third, if the intervals are tolerably wide. But if the floggings follow close on one another, he is soon callous to the feeling of shame; and on each successive infliction, the sharpness of the punishment becomes less, till the fear of it ceases to operate on his mind. In those cases, therefore, of resolute ir. regularity, where an efficacious punishment is most to be desired, this penalty of flogging utterly fails ; while, on the other band, it sometimes falls with unnecessary hardship upon a youth of seventeen or eighteen years of age, who is accidentally caught tripping, and by whom the disgrace is severely felt. We hope that the impolicy and unfairness of this unseemly punishment may before long occasion its abolition, at least for a considerable part of the school.

Before we dismiss the subject of the moral discipline of Eton, we will briefly advert to the subject of religious instruction. This, as we remarked above, is confined to reading once in the week a portion of the Greek Testament, and a chapter of Bishop Tomline's book on the Thirty-nine Articles. There is, however, no examination at certain intervals, so as to ensure that these separate lessons are taken together, and understood in connexion; nor is there read any work on the Evidences of Christianity. The very objectionable practice of converting chapel into a is likewise kept up, in spite of arguments, to the number and strength of which we could add nothing; and a portion of time, wbich might be devoted to valuable instruction, is wasted, we will not say in the pretence of devotion, for pretence of the kind there is none.

There are several other points which we might mention, such as the absurd pageant of Montem, the worse than absurd custom of spouting Latin and Greek speeches, the maintenance of which, and of the custom of acting Terence's plays at Westminster school, is a proof how hurtful practices are sometimes perseveringly kept up, without attempt at defence, or symptom of shame, in the face of the most conclusive objections.* But we have already entered too much into details not interesting to all our readers.

In some of the above statements it is possible that we may have fallen into slight inaccuracies; but we believe that our information is substantially correct; and we are quite unconscious of baving coloured or heightened any charge, or baving used any unfair art of accusation. We are equally unconscious of harbouring any ill-will against the College of Eton itself, or any individual connected with it; and, above all, we disclaim any personal allusion. Our object has been, as far as our means of information extend, to lay before our readers an account of the advantages to be expected from the costly education to be obtained at this seminary. If our estimate of these benefits is not so high as that generally made, it is not founded either on a hasty view of the question, or on a wish to detract from the fame of Eton. Our wish is, that it may flourish; our conviction, that, under its present system, it cannot and ought not to flourish. Can any parent, who is anxious for the welfare of his children, read and believe the account which we have given, and say that the education of Eton is the best which these islands afford? Is he willing that his son should abandon all knowledge but that of the Greek and Latin languages? That when young and weak, he should be exposed to the unchecked tyranny of older boys; when grown stronger, that his evil passions should not only not be repressed, but heightened and inflamed by a regulation connived at, if not approved, by the governors of the school? That after a long and expensive residence, bis son should be returned to his hands avowedly ignorant, so far as the school instruction is concerned, of modern languages, literature, and history,—and probably not possessing sufficient knowledge even of the ancient languages to enable him to construe a page in any Latin or Greek author with ease and correctness ? Defendit numerus, is the answer which, we fear,

* See Whatley's Elements of Rhetoric, pp. 337 and 341.

many parents make to such enquiries; and it must be confessed that the argument has some weight, as the merits of a school may be supposed to be great when it has gained the votes of so large a number, and so many persons are encouraged by their own experience to send their sons to enjoy the same education. It is no part of our present object to account for the popularity of Eton; but we may say with the poet,

Careat successibus opto, Quisquis ab eventu facta notanda putat.' The activity and industry of the assistant masters, who, by instructions given out of school, in books not read in school, help to lessen the bad effects of the school system,—the delightful situation of Eton,—the facility afforded for athletic sports by the large fields belonging to the College, and by the neighbourhood of the river,-the general happiness enjoyed by the older boys,—the opportunity for selecting friends, afforded by numbers, are among the chief causes which endear this place in the recollection of most of its sons. Whether it is a choice of evils, and Eton is the least-what are the systems of the other public schools, and whether these systems are better or worse ? are questions, into which we shall not now enter. In the meantime we may ask the governors of Eton whether things are not as we have said ? If it can be shown that they are not, we sball be gladly undeceived; but if they are, is it fit that they should remain so ?

We, on this side the Tweed, may well be allowed to feel some surprise that such defects and vices as are above detailed, should be permitted and upheld in a great and favourite seminary near the heart of the empire, at the very time when the Government has thonght itself called upon to institute a Commission of Inquiry and Reform for the more remote, and, we will venture to say, the far more pure and perfect Universities of Scotland. Of this Commission we may perhaps hereafter have a fitter occasion to speak. Meanwhile, we confess, that we should like mightily to know how the governors of Eton, or the heads of the Colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, would relish the appointment of a Commission, composed of the sages of Westminster Hall, for the purpose of amendiug their academical government and discipline, and instructing them in the proper course and practice of tuition in literature and science. The facility with which certain Scottish institutions are given up to experiment, while the kindred ones of England are steadily shielded from change, suggests matter for a curious chapter in the history of innovations.

Art. IV.- Memoirs of the Astronomical Society of London.

3 vols. 4to. London, 1822-1829.

W ERE the progress of science always to be arrested at that

point where it ceases to be of any practical utility to mankind, astronomy might now be considered as standing in need of little farther cultivation. The advantages which society derives from the labours of the astronomer, are confined to navigation, geography, and the regulation of the calendar. All other motives which induce us to study the laws of the celestial motions, and observe the various phenomena of the heavens, are of a purely speculative kind, and have their origin in that ardent and inquisitive curiosity to become acquainted with the cause and the laws of all physical occurrences, which forms one of the most active principles in the composition of buman nature. But though the useful applications of astronomy are limited to the objects just enumerated, these objects are of so important a nature, and exact withal so extensive and accurate a knowledge of the celestial motions, that to a country whose prosperity, almost existence, depends on navigation and commerce, the cultivation of the science becomes a matter of political necessity. Its history, indeed, sufficiently proves that it has been more generally cultivated on account of its speculative interest, than for the sake of its practical applications ; yet, in treating of its recent progress or future prospects, it may be well to keep those applications in view, as, by doing so, we shall be better enabled to form a just estimate of the real value of the exertions that are at present emulously made to give greater refinement to its theories, or to add to the immense mass of facts already accumulated by the labours of twenty centuries.

Though the magnificent spectacle of the heavens bas attracted the admiration of mankind in all ages, and the motions and nature of the celestial bodies been one of the earliest and most constant objects of study, yet Astronomy, as a science, can only be said to have existed in its present form since the days of Kepler, to whose penetrating genius and most laborious industry, we are indebted not only for the discovery of the true nature of the planetary orbits and the laws of motion, but also for most of the methods of computation which are employed at the present day. Since that time, its advancement bas been rapid and uninterrupted. The telescope enlarged to an immeasurable extent the boundaries of the visible universe, while the pendulum and micrometer-all discoveries of the same age-gave a precision to observations altogether unknown to the ancient astronomers,



« PreviousContinue »