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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

About Compulsory Education

From “Friendship’s Garland”

“BUT,” continued Arminius, “you were talking of compulsory education, and your common people’s want of it. Now, my dear friend, I want you to understand what this principle of compulsory education really means. It means that to insure, as far as you can, every man’s being fit for his business in life, you put education as a bar, or condition, between him and what he aims at. The principle is just as good for one class as another, and it is only by applying it impartially that you save its application from being insolent and invidious. Our Prussian peasant stands our compelling him to instruct himself before he may go about his calling, because he sees we believe in instruction, and compel our own class, too, in a way to make it really feel the pressure, to instruct itself before it may go about its calling. Now, you propose to make old Diggs’s boys instruct themselves before they may go bird-scaring or sheep-tending. I want to know what you do to make those three worthies in that justice-room instruct themselves before they may go acting as magistrates and judges.”

“Do?” said I. “Why, just look what they have done all of themselves. Lumpington and Hittall have had a public-school and university education; Bottles has had Dr. Silverpump’s, and the practical training of business. What on earth would you have us make them do more?”

“Qualify themselves for administrative or judicial functions, if they exercise them,” said Arminius. “That is what really answers, in their case, to the compulsion you propose to apply to Diggs’s boys. Sending Lord Lumpington and Mr. Hittall to school is nothing; the natural course of things takes them there. Don’t suppose that, by doing this, you are applying the principle of compulsory education fairly, and as you apply it to Diggs’s boys. You are not interposing, for the rich, education as a bar or condition between them and that which they aim at. But interpose it, as we do, between the rich and things they aim at, and I will say something to you. I should like to know what has made Lord Lumpington a magistrate?”

“Made Lord Lumpington a magistrate?” said I. “Why, the Lumpington estate, to be sure.”

“And the Rev. Esau Hittall?” continued Arminius.

“Why, the Lumpington living, of course,” said I.

“And that man Bottles?” he went on.

“His English energy and self-reliance,” I answered very stiffly, for Arminius’s incessant carping began to put me in a huff, “those same incomparable and truly British qualities which have just triumphed over every obstacle and given us the Atlantic telegraph! And let me tell you, Von T., in my opinion it will be a long time before the Geist of any pedant of a Prussian professor gives us anything half so valuable as that.”

“Pshaw!” replied Arminius contemptuously, “that great rope, with a Philistine at each end of it talking inutilities! But in my country,” he went on, “we should have begun to put a pressure on these future magistrates at school. Before we allowed Lord Lumpington and Mr. Hittall to go to the university at all, we should have examined them, and we should not have trusted the keepers of that absurd cockpit you took me down to see, to examine them as they chose, and send them jogging comfortably off to the university on their lame longs and shorts. No; there would have been some Mr. Grote as school-board commissary, pitching into them questions about history, and some Mr. Lowe, as crown-patronage commissary, pitching into them questions about English literature; and these young men would have been kept from the university, as Diggs’s boys are kept from their bird-scaring, till they had instructed themselves. Then, if, after three years of their university, they wanted to be magistrates, another pressure—a great civil-service examination before a board of experts, an examination in English law, Roman law, English history, history of jurisprudence——”

“A most abominable liberty to take with Lumpington and Hittall!” exclaimed I.

“Then your compulsory education is a most abominable liberty to take with Diggs’s boys,” retorted Arminius.

“But, good gracious! my dear Arminius,” expostulated I, “do you really mean to maintain that a man can’t put old Diggs in quod for snaring a hare without all this elaborate apparatus of Roman law and history of jurisprudence?”

“And do you really mean to maintain,” returned Arminius, “that a man can’t go bird-scaring or sheep-tending without all this elaborate apparatus of a compulsory school?”

“Oh, but,” I answered, “to live at all, even at the lowest stage of human life, a man needs instruction.”

“Well,” returned Arminius, “and to administer at all, even at the lowest stage of public administration, a man needs instruction.”

“We have never found it so,” said I.

Arminius shrugged his shoulders and was silent. By this time the proceedings in the justice-room were drawn to an end, the majesty of the law had been vindicated against old Diggs, and the three magistrates were coming out. Lord Lumpington was the first. His lordship good-naturedly recognised me with a nod, and then eyeing Arminius with surprise and curiosity—“Whom on earth have you got there?” he whispered.

“A very distinguished young Prussian savant,” replied I. And then dropping my voice, in my most impressive undertones I added, “And a young man of very good family, besides, my lord.”

Lord Lumpington looked at Arminius again, smiled, shook his head, and then, turning away, and half-aloud, “Can’t compliment you on your friend,” says he.

As for that centaur, the Rev. Esau Hittall, who thinks of nothing on earth but field-sports, and in the performance of his sacred duties never warms up except when he lights on some passage about hunting or fowling, he always, whenever he meets me, remembers that in my unregenerate days, before Arminius inoculated me with a passion for intellect, I was rather fond of shooting, and not quite such a successful shot as Hittall himself. So, the moment he catches sight of me—“How d’ye do, old fellow?” he blurts out. “Well, been shooting any straighter this year than you used to, eh?”

I turned from him in pity, and then I noticed Arminius, who had unluckily heard Lord Lumpington’s unfavourable comment on him, absolutely purple with rage and blowing like a turkey-cock. “Never mind, Arminius,” said I soothingly; “run after Lumpington, and ask him the square root of thirty-six.”

But now it was my turn to be a little annoyed, for at the same instant Mr. Bottles stepped into his brougham, which was waiting for him, and observing Arminius, his old enemy of the Reigate train, he took no notice whatever of me who stood there, with my hat in my hand, practising all the airs and graces I have learnt on the Continent. But, with that want of amenity I so often have to deplore in my countrymen, he pulled up the glass on our side with a grunt and a jerk, and drove off like the wind, leaving Arminius in a very bad temper indeed, and me, I confess, a good deal shocked and mortified.