CATO'S SOLILOQUY.--One day Mrs. Gastrel set a little girl to
repeat to him [Dr. Samuel Johnson] Cato's Soliloquy, which she
went through very correctly. The Doctor, after a pause, asked
In the appendix to Croker's Boswell's Johnson one finds this anecdote:
"What was to bring Cato to an end?"
She said it was a knife.
"No, my dear, it was not so."
"My aunt Polly said it was a knife."
"Why, Aunt Polly's knife MAY DO, but it was a DAGGER, my dear."
He then asked her the meaning of "bane and antidote," which
she was unable to give. Mrs. Gastrel said:
"You cannot expect so young a child to know the meaning of such words."
He then said:
"My dear, how many pence are there in SIXPENCE?"
"I cannot tell, sir," was the half-terrified reply.
On this, addressing himself to Mrs. Gastrel, he said:
"Now, my dear lady, can anything be more ridiculous than to
teach a child Cato's Soliloquy, who does not know how many pence
there are in a sixpence?"
In a lecture before the Royal Geographical Society Professor
Ravenstein quoted the following list of frantic questions, and
said that they had been asked in an examination:
Mention all names of places in the world derived from Julius
Caesar or Augustus Caesar.
Where are the following rivers: Pisuerga, Sakaria,
Guadalete, Jalon, Mulde?
All you know of the following: Machacha, Pilmo, Schebulos,
Crivoscia, Basces, Mancikert, Taxhem, Citeaux, Meloria, Zutphen.
The highest peaks of the Karakorum range.
The number of universities in Prussia.
Why are the tops of mountains continually covered with snow [sic]?
Name the length and breadth of the streams of lava which
issued from the Skaptar Jokul in the eruption of 1783.
That list would oversize nearly anybody's geographical
knowledge. Isn't it reasonably possible that in our schools many
of the questions in all studies are several miles ahead of where
the pupil is?--that he is set to struggle with things that are
ludicrously beyond his present reach, hopelessly beyond his
present strength? This remark in passing, and by way of text;
now I come to what I was going to say.
I have just now fallen upon a darling literary curiosity.
It is a little book, a manuscript compilation, and the compiler
sent it to me with the request that I say whether I think it
ought to be published or not. I said, Yes; but as I slowly grow
wise I briskly grow cautious; and so, now that the publication is
imminent, it has seemed to me that I should feel more comfortable
if I could divide up this responsibility with the public by
adding them to the court. Therefore I will print some extracts
from the book, in the hope that they may make converts to my
judgment that the volume has merit which entitles it to publication.
As to its character. Every one has sampled "English as She
is Spoke" and "English as She is Wrote"; this little volume
furnishes us an instructive array of examples of "English as She
is Taught"--in the public schools of--well, this country. The
collection is made by a teacher in those schools, and all the
examples in it are genuine; none of them have been tampered with,
or doctored in any way. From time to time, during several years,
whenever a pupil has delivered himself of anything peculiarly
quaint or toothsome in the course of his recitations, this
teacher and her associates have privately set that thing down in
a memorandum-book; strictly following the original, as to
grammar, construction, spelling, and all; and the result is this
The contents of the book consist mainly of answers given by
the boys and girls to questions, said answers being given
sometimes verbally, sometimes in writing. The subjects touched
upon are fifteen in number: I. Etymology; II. Grammar; III.
Mathematics; IV. Geography; V. "Original"; VI. Analysis; VII.
History; VIII. "Intellectual"; IX. Philosophy; X. Physiology; XI.
Astronomy; XII. Politics; XIII. Music; XIV. Oratory; XV.
You perceive that the poor little young idea has taken a
shot at a good many kinds of game in the course of the book. Now
as to results. Here are some quaint definitions of words. It
will be noticed that in all of these instances the sound of the
word, or the look of it on paper, has misled the child:
ABORIGINES, a system of mountains.
ALIAS, a good man in the Bible.
AMENABLE, anything that is mean.
AMMONIA, the food of the gods.
ASSIDUITY, state of being an acid.
AURIFEROUS, pertaining to an orifice.
CAPILLARY, a little caterpillar.
CORNIFEROUS, rocks in which fossil corn is found.
EMOLUMENT, a headstone to a grave.
EQUESTRIAN, one who asks questions.
EUCHARIST, one who plays euchre.
FRANCHISE, anything belonging to the French.
IDOLATER, a very idle person.
IPECAC, a man who likes a good dinner.
IRRIGATE, to make fun of.
MENDACIOUS, what can be mended.
MERCENARY, one who feels for another.
PARASITE, a kind of umbrella.
PARASITE, the murder of an infant.
PUBLICAN, a man who does his prayers in public.
TENACIOUS, ten acres of land.
Here is one where the phrase "publicans and sinners" has got
mixed up in the child's mind with politics, and the result is a
definition which takes one in a sudden and unexpected way:
REPUBLICAN, a sinner mentioned in the Bible.
Also in Democratic newspapers now and then. Here are two where
the mistake has resulted from sound assisted by remote fact:
PLAGIARIST, a writer of plays.
DEMAGOGUE, a vessel containing beer and other liquids.
I cannot quite make out what it was that misled the pupil in
the following instances; it would not seem to have been the sound
of the word, nor the look of it in print:
ASPHYXIA, a grumbling, fussy temper.
QUARTERNIONS, a bird with a flat beak and no bill, living in
QUARTERNIONS, the name given to a style of art practiced by
QUARTERNIONS, a religious convention held every hundred
SIBILANT, the state of being idiotic.
CROSIER, a staff carried by the Deity.
In the following sentences the pupil's ear has been
deceiving him again:
The marriage was illegible.
He was totally dismasted with the whole performance.
He enjoys riding on a philosopher.
She was very quick at repertoire.
He prayed for the waters to subsidize.
The leopard is watching his sheep.
They had a strawberry vestibule.
Here is one which--well, now, how often we do slam right
into the truth without ever suspecting it:
The men employed by the Gas Company go around and
speculate the meter.
Indeed they do, dear; and when you grow up, many and many's
the time you will notice it in the gas bill. In the following
sentences the little people have some information to convey,
every time; but in my case they fail to connect: the light
always went out on the keystone word:
The coercion of some things is remarkable; as bread and molasses.
Her hat is contiguous because she wears it on one side.
He preached to an egregious congregation.
The captain eliminated a bullet through the man's heart.
You should take caution and be precarious.
The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the
perennial time came.
The last is a curiously plausible sentence; one seems to
know what it means, and yet he knows all the time that he
doesn't. Here is an odd (but entirely proper) use of a word, and
a most sudden descent from a lofty philosophical altitude to a
very practical and homely illustration:
We should endeavor to avoid extremes--like those of wasps and bees.
And here--with "zoological" and "geological" in his mind,
but not ready to his tongue--the small scholar has innocently
gone and let out a couple of secrets which ought never to have
been divulged in any circumstances:
There are a good many donkeys in theological gardens.
Some of the best fossils are found in theological gardens.
Under the head of "Grammar" the little scholars furnish the
Gender is the distinguishing nouns without regard to sex.
A verb is something to eat.
Adverbs should always be used as adjectives and adjectives as adverbs.
Every sentence and name of God must begin with a caterpillar.
"Caterpillar" is well enough, but capital letter would have
been stricter. The following is a brave attempt at a solution,
but it failed to liquify:
When they are going to say some prose or poetry before they
say the poetry or prose they must put a semicolon just after the
introduction of the prose or poetry.
The chapter on "Mathematics" is full of fruit. From it I
take a few samples--mainly in an unripe state:
A straight line is any distance between two places.
Parallel lines are lines that can never meet until they run together.
A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle.
Things which are equal to each other are equal to anything else.
To find the number of square feet in a room you multiply the
room by the number of the feet. The product is the result.
Right you are. In the matter of geography this little book
is unspeakably rich. The questions do not appear to have applied
the microscope to the subject, as did those quoted by Professor
Ravenstein; still, they proved plenty difficult enough without
that. These pupils did not hunt with a microscope, they hunted
with a shot-gun; this is shown by the crippled condition of the
game they brought in:
America is divided into the Passiffic slope and the Mississippi valey.
North America is separated by Spain.
America consists from north to south about five hundred miles.
The United States is quite a small country compared with
some other countrys, but it about as industrious.
The capital of the United States is Long Island.
The five seaports of the U.S. are Newfunlan and Sanfrancisco.
The principal products of the U.S. is earthquakes and volcanoes.
The Alaginnies are mountains in Philadelphia.
The Rocky Mountains are on the western side of Philadelphia.
Cape Hateras is a vast body of water surrounded by land and
flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Mason and Dixon's line is the Equator.
One of the leading industries of the United States is
mollasses, book-covers, numbers, gas, teaching, lumber,
manufacturers, paper-making, publishers, coal.
In Austria the principal occupation is gathering Austrich feathers.
Gibraltar is an island built on a rock.
Russia is very cold and tyrannical.
Sicily is one of the Sandwich Islands.
Hindoostan flows through the Ganges and empties into the
Ireland is called the Emigrant Isle because it is so
beautiful and green.
The width of the different zones Europe lies in depend upon
the surrounding country.
The imports of a country are the things that are paid for,
the exports are the things that are not.
Climate lasts all the time and weather only a few days.
The two most famous volcanoes of Europe are Sodom and Gomorrah.
The chapter headed "Analysis" shows us that the pupils in
our public schools are not merely loaded up with those showy
facts about geography, mathematics, and so on, and left in that
incomplete state; no, there's machinery for clarifying and
expanding their minds. They are required to take poems and
analyze them, dig out their common sense, reduce them to
statistics, and reproduce them in a luminous prose translation
which shall tell you at a glance what the poet was trying to get
at. One sample will do. Here is a stanza from "The Lady of the
Lake," followed by the pupil's impressive explanation of it:
Alone, but with unbated zeal,
The horseman plied with scourge and steel;
For jaded now and spent with toil,
Embossed with foam and dark with soil,
While every gasp with sobs he drew,
The laboring stag strained full in view.
The man who rode on the horse performed the whip and an
instrument made of steel alone with strong ardor not diminishing,
for, being tired from the time passed with hard labor overworked
with anger and ignorant with weariness, while every breath for
labor he drew with cries full or sorrow, the young deer made
imperfect who worked hard filtered in sight.
I see, now, that I never understood that poem before. I
have had glimpses of its meaning, it moments when I was not as
ignorant with weariness as usual, but this is the first time the
whole spacious idea of it ever filtered in sight. If I were a
public-school pupil I would put those other studies aside and
stick to analysis; for, after all, it is the thing to spread your
We come now to historical matters, historical remains, one
might say. As one turns the pages he is impressed with the depth
to which one date has been driven into the American child's head
--1492. The date is there, and it is there to stay. And it is
always at hand, always deliverable at a moment's notice. But the
Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another matter. Only
the date itself is familiar and sure: its vast Fact has failed
of lodgment. It would appear that whenever you ask a public-
school pupil when a thing--anything, no matter what--happened,
and he is in doubt, he always rips out his 1492. He applies it
to everything, from the landing of the ark to the introduction of
the horse-car. Well, after all, it is our first date, and so it
is right enough to honor it, and pay the public schools to teach
our children to honor it:
George Washington was born in 1492.
Washington wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1492.
St. Bartholemew was massacred in 1492.
The Brittains were the Saxons who entered England in 1492
under Julius Caesar.
The earth is 1492 miles in circumference.
To proceed with "History"
Christopher Columbus was called the Father of his Country.
Queen Isabella of Spain sold her watch and chain and other
millinery so that Columbus could discover America.
The Indian wars were very desecrating to the country.
The Indians pursued their warfare by hiding in the bushes
and then scalping them.
Captain John Smith has been styled the father of his country.
His life was saved by his daughter Pochahantas.
The Puritans found an insane asylum in the wilds of America.
The Stamp Act was to make everybody stamp all materials so
they should be null and void.
Washington died in Spain almost broken-hearted. His remains
were taken to the cathedral in Havana.
Gorilla warfare was where men rode on gorillas.
John Brown was a very good insane man who tried to get
fugitives slaves into Virginia. He captured all the inhabitants,
but was finally conquered and condemned to his death. The
confederasy was formed by the fugitive slaves.
Alfred the Great reigned 872 years. He was distinguished
for letting some buckwheat cakes burn, and the lady scolded him.
Henry Eight was famous for being a great widower haveing
lost several wives.
Lady Jane Grey studied Greek and Latin and was beheaded
after a few days.
John Bright is noted for an incurable disease.
Lord James Gordon Bennet instigated the Gordon Riots.
The Middle Ages come in between antiquity and posterity.
Luther introduced Christianity into England a good many
thousand years ago. His birthday was November 1883. He was once
a Pope. He lived at the time of the Rebellion of Worms.
Julius Caesar is noted for his famous telegram dispatch I
came I saw I conquered.
Julius Caesar was really a very great man. He was a very
great soldier and wrote a book for beginners in the Latin.
Cleopatra was caused by the death of an asp which she
dissolved in a wine cup.
The only form of government in Greece was a limited monkey.
The Persian war lasted about 500 years.
Greece had only 7 wise men.
Socrates . . . destroyed some statues and had to drink Shamrock.
Here is a fact correctly stated; and yet it is phrased with
such ingenious infelicity that it can be depended upon to convey
misinformation every time it is uncarefully unread:
By the Salic law no woman or descendant of a woman could
occupy the throne.
To show how far a child can travel in history with judicious
and diligent boosting in the public school, we select the
Abraham Lincoln was born in Wales in 1599.
In the chapter headed "Intellectual" I find a great number of most
interesting statements. A sample or two may be found not amiss:
Bracebridge Hall was written by Henry Irving.
Show Bound was written by Peter Cooper.
The House of the Seven Gables was written by Lord Bryant.
Edgar A. Poe was a very curdling writer.
Cotton Mather was a writer who invented the cotten gin and
Beowulf wrote the Scriptures.
Ben Johnson survived Shakspeare in some respects.
In the Canterbury Tale it gives account of King Alfred on
his way to the shrine of Thomas Bucket.
Chaucer was the father of English pottery.
Chaucer was a bland verse writer of the third century.
Chaucer was succeeded by H. Wads. Longfellow an American
Writer. His writings were chiefly prose and nearly one hundred
Shakspere translated the Scriptures and it was called St.
James because he did it.
In the middle of the chapter I find many pages of
information concerning Shakespeare's plays, Milton's works, and
those of Bacon, Addison, Samuel Johnson, Fielding, Richardson,
Sterne, Smollett, De Foe, Locke, Pope, Swift, Goldsmith, Burns,
Cowper, Wordsworth, Gibbon, Byron, Coleridge, Hood, Scott,
Macaulay, George Eliot, Dickens, Bulwer, Thackeray, Browning,
Mrs. Browning, Tennyson, and Disraeli--a fact which shows that
into the restricted stomach of the public-school pupil is
shoveled every year the blood, bone, and viscera of a gigantic
literature, and the same is there digested and disposed of in a
most successful and characteristic and gratifying public-school
way. I have space for but a trifling few of the results:
Lord Byron was the son of an heiress and a drunken man.
Wm. Wordsworth wrote the Barefoot Boy and Imitations on Immortality.
Gibbon wrote a history of his travels in Italy. This was original.
George Eliot left a wife and children who mourned greatly for his genius.
George Eliot Miss Mary Evans Mrs. Cross Mrs. Lewis was the greatest
female poet unless George Sands is made an exception of.
Bulwell is considered a good writer.
Sir Walter Scott Charles Bronte Alfred the Great and Johnson
were the first great novelists.
Thomas Babington Makorlay graduated at Harvard and then studied law,
he was raised to the peerage as baron in 1557 and died in 1776.
Here are two or three miscellaneous facts that may be of value,
if taken in moderation:
Homer's writings are Homer's Essays Virgil the Aenid and
Paradise lost some people say that these poems were not written
by Homer but by another man of the same name.
A sort of sadness kind of shone in Bryant's poems.
Holmes is a very profligate and amusing writer.
When the public-school pupil wrestles with the political
features of the Great Republic, they throw him sometimes:
A bill becomes a law when the President vetoes it.
The three departments of the government is the President rules
the world, the governor rules the State, the mayor rules the city.
The first conscientious Congress met in Philadelphia.
The Constitution of the United States was established to
ensure domestic hostility.
Truth crushed to earth will rise again. As follows:
The Constitution of the United States is that part of the
book at the end which nobody reads.
And here she rises once more and untimely. There should be
a limit to public-school instruction; it cannot be wise or well
to let the young find out everything:
Congress is divided into civilized half civilized and savage.
Here are some results of study in music and oratory:
An interval in music is the distance on the keyboard from
one piano to the next.
A rest means you are not to sing it.
Emphasis is putting more distress on one word than another.
The chapter on "Physiology" contains much that ought not to
be lost to science:
Physillogigy is to study about your bones stummick and vertebry.
Occupations which are injurious to health are cabolic acid
gas which is impure blood.
We have an upper and lower skin. The lower skin moves all
the time and the upper skin moves when we do.
The body is mostly composed of water and about one half is
The stomach is a small pear-shaped bone situated in the body.
The gastric juice keeps the bones from creaking.
The Chyle flows up the middle of the backbone and reaches
the heart where it meets the oxygen and is purified.
The salivary glands are used to salivate the body.
In the stomach starch is changed to cane sugar and cane
sugar to sugar cane.
The olfactory nerve enters the cavity of the orbit and is
developed into the special sense of hearing.
The growth of a tooth begins in the back of the mouth and
extends to the stomach.
If we were on a railroad track and a train was coming the train
would deafen our ears so that we couldn't see to get off the track.
If, up to this point, none of my quotations have added
flavor to the Johnsonian anecdote at the head of this article,
let us make another attempt:
The theory that intuitive truths are discovered by the light
of nature originated from St. John's interpretation of a passage
in the Gospel of Plato.
The weight of the earth is found by comparing a mass of
known lead with that of a mass of unknown lead.
To find the weight of the earth take the length of a degree
on a meridian and multiply by 6 1/2 pounds.
The spheres are to each other as the squares of their
A body will go just as far in the first second as the body
will go plus the force of gravity and that's equal to twice what
the body will go.
Specific gravity is the weight to be compared weight of an
equal volume of or that is the weight of a body compared with the
weight of an equal volume.
The law of fluid pressure divide the different forms of
organized bodies by the form of attraction and the number
increased will be the form.
Inertia is that property of bodies by virtue of which it
cannot change its own condition of rest or motion. In other
words it is the negative quality of passiveness either in
recoverable latency or insipient latescence.
If a laugh is fair here, not the struggling child, nor the
unintelligent teacher--or rather the unintelligent Boards,
Committees, and Trustees--are the proper target for it. All
through this little book one detects the signs of a certain
probable fact--that a large part of the pupil's "instruction"
consists in cramming him with obscure and wordy "rules" which he
does not understand and has no time to understand. It would be
as useful to cram him with brickbats; they would at least stay.
In a town in the interior of New York, a few years ago, a
gentleman set forth a mathematical problem and proposed to give a
prize to every public-school pupil who should furnish the correct
solution of it. Twenty-two of the brightest boys in the public
schools entered the contest. The problem was not a very
difficult one for pupils of their mathematical rank and standing,
yet they all failed--by a hair--through one trifling mistake or
another. Some searching questions were asked, when it turned out
that these lads were as glib as parrots with the "rules," but
could not reason out a single rule or explain the principle
underlying it. Their memories had been stocked, but not their
understandings. It was a case of brickbat culture, pure and
There are several curious "compositions" in the little book,
and we must make room for one. It is full of naivete, brutal
truth, and unembarrassed directness, and is the funniest
(genuine) boy's composition I think I have ever seen:
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be
have your. They think more of dress than anything and like to
play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far
distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time
and go to church on Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-
ways funy and making fun of boy's hands and they say how dirty.
They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun
of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they
ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say
oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and
that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.
From Mr. Edward Channing's recent article in SCIENCE:
The marked difference between the books now being produced
by French, English, and American travelers, on the one hand, and
German explorers, on the other, is too great to escape attention.
That difference is due entirely to the fact that in school and
university the German is taught, in the first place to see, and
in the second place to understand what he does see.