FROM THE DIARY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
WRITTEN WHEN A SCHOOLBOY
Bridges Creek, 1744, September 20.—My mother has at last consented to let me go to school. I had repeatedly made it quite plain to her that the private tuition hitherto accorded to me was inadequate; that I would be in danger of being outstripped in the race owing to insufficient groundwork. My mother, although very shrewd in some matters, was curiously obstinate on this point. She positively declined to let me attend the day-school, saying that she thought I knew quite enough for a boy of my age, and that it would be time enough for me to go to school when I was older. I quoted to her Tacitus’ powerful phrase about the insidious danger of indolence; how there is a charm in indolence—but let me taste the full pleasure of transcribing the noble original: “Subit quippe etiam ipsius inertiæ dulcedo: et invisa primo desidia postremo amatur”; but she only said that she did not understand Latin. This was scarcely an argument, as I translated it for her.
I cannot help thinking that there was sometimes an element of pose in Tacitus’ much-vaunted terseness.
September 29.—I went to school for the first time to-day. I confess I was disappointed. We are reading, in the Fourth Division, in which I was placed at my mother’s express request, Eutropius and Ovid; both very insipid writers. The boys are lamentably backward and show a deplorable lack of interest in the classics. The French master has an accent that leaves much to be desired, and he seems rather shaky about his past participles. However, all these things are but trifles. What I really resent is the gross injustice which seems to be the leading principle at this school—if school it can be called.
For instance, when the master asks a question, those boys who know the answer are told to hold up their hands. During the history lesson Henry VIII. was mentioned in connection with the religious quarrels of the sixteenth century, a question which, I confess, can but have small interest for any educated person at the present day. The master asked what British poet had written a play on the subject of Henry VIII. I, of course, held up my hand, and so did a boy called Jonas Pike. I was told to answer first, and I said that the play was in the main by Fletcher, with possible later interpolations. The usher, it is scarcely credible, said, “Go to the bottom of the form,” and when Jonas Pike was asked he replied, “Shakespeare,” and was told to go up one. This was, I consider, a monstrous piece of injustice.
During one of the intervals, which are only too frequent, between the lessons, the boys play a foolish game called “It,” in which even those who have no aptitude and still less inclination for this tedious form of horse-play, are compelled to take part. The game consists in one boy being named “it” (though why the neuter is used in this case instead of the obviously necessary masculine it is hard to see). He has to endeavour to touch one of the other boys, who in their turn do their best to evade him by running, and should he succeed in touching one of them, the boy who is touched becomes “it” ipso facto. It is all very tedious and silly. I was touched almost immediately, and when I said that I would willingly transfer the privilege of being touched to one of the other boys who were obviously eager to obtain it, one of the bigger boys (again Jonas Pike) gave me a sharp kick on the shin. I confess I was ruffled. I was perhaps to blame in what followed. I am, perhaps, inclined to forget at times that Providence has made me physically strong. I retaliated with more insistence than I intended, and in the undignified scuffle which ensued Jonas Pike twisted his ankle. He had to be supported home. When questioned as to the cause of the accident I regret to say he told a deliberate falsehood. He said he had slipped on the ladder in the gymnasium. I felt it my duty to inform the head-master of the indirect and unwilling part I had played in the matter.
The head master, who is positively unable to perceive the importance of plain-speaking, said, “I suppose you mean you did it.” I answered, “No, sir; I was the resisting but not the passive agent in an unwarrantable assault.” The result was I was told to stay in during the afternoon and copy out the First Eclogue of Virgil. It is characteristic of the head master to choose a feeble Eclogue of Virgil instead of one of the admirable Georgics. Jonas Pike is to be flogged, as soon as his foot is well, for his untruthfulness.
This, my first experience of school life, is not very hopeful.
Maurice Baring, ‘Lost Diaries'(1913).
This excerpt is one of several that can be found in Maurice Baring’s collection of fictional extracts from the diaries of notable people such as William the Conqueror, Christopher Columbus, the Man in the Iron Mask, Sherlock Holmes, Mark Anthony and Hamlet Prince of Denmark, to name a few.
Although these may be just works of the imagination, but they still do provide a rather fun and refreshing take on how we look at these famous (or infamous) people. If you are interested to take a look at the rest, do pop over to http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=3357440&pageno=2. You can either choose to download the ebook for free, or read online if you like.
Have fun! 🙂