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

Thomas Hughes (1822–1896)

“Cribs”: An Institution of Providence

From “Tom Brown’s School-Days”

AFTER breakfast, Tom, East, and Gower met as usual to learn their second lesson together. Tom had been considering how to break his proposal of giving up the crib to the others, and having found no better way (as, indeed, none better can ever be found by man or boy), told them simply what had happened: how he had been to see Arthur, who had talked to him upon the subject, and what he had said, and how for his part he had made up his mind, and wasn’t going to use cribs any more. Not being quite sure of his ground, he took the high and pathetic tone, and was proceeding to say, “how that, having his lessons with them for so many years, it would grieve him much to put an end to the arrangement, and that he hoped at any rate if they wouldn’t go on with him, they should still be just as good friends, and respect one another’s motives—but——”

Here the other boys, who had been listening with open eyes and ears, burst in.

“Stuff and nonsense!” cried Gower. “Here, East, get down the crib and find the place.”

“Oh, Tommy, Tommy!” said East, proceeding to do as he was bidden, “that it should ever have come to this! I knew Arthur’d be the ruin of you some day, and you of me. And now the time’s come.” And he made a doleful face.

“I don’t know about ruin,” answered Tom. “I know that you and I would have had the sack long ago, if it hadn’t been for him. And you know it as well as I.”

“Well, we were in a baddish way before he came, I own; but this new crotchet of his is past a joke.”

“Let’s give it a trial, Harry; come—you know how often he has been right and we wrong.”

“Now, don’t you two be jawing away about young Squaretoes,” struck in Gower. “He’s no end of a sucking wiseacre, I dare say; but we’ve no time to lose, and I’ve got the fives’-court at half-past nine.”

“I say, Gower,” said Tom appealingly, “be a good fellow, and let’s try if we can’t get on without the crib.”

“What! in this chorus? Why, we sha’n’t get through ten lines.”

“I say, Tom,” cried East, having hit on a new idea, “don’t you remember, when we were in the upper fourth, and old Momus caught me construing off the leaf of a crib which I’d torn out and put in my book, and which would float out on to the floor, he sent me up to be flogged for it?”

“Yes, I remember it very well.”

“Well, the doctor, after he’d flogged me, told me himself that he didn’t flog me for using a translation, but for taking it into lesson, and using it there when I hadn’t learnt a word before I came in. He said there was no harm in using a translation to get a clew to hard passages, if you tried all you could first to make them out without.”

“Did he, though?” said Tom. “Then Arthur must be wrong.”

“Of course he is,” said Gower, “the little prig. We’ll only use the crib when we can’t construe without it. Go ahead, East.”

And on this agreement they started—Tom, satisfied with having made his confession, and not sorry to have a locus pœnitentiæ, and not to be deprived altogether of the use of his old and faithful friend.

The boys went on as usual, each taking a sentence in turn, and the crib being handed to the one whose turn it was to construe. Of course Tom couldn’t object to this, as, was it not simply lying there to be appealed to in case the sentence should prove too hard altogether for the construer? But it must be owned that Gower and East did not make very tremendous exertions to conquer their sentences before having recourse to its help. Tom, however, with the most heroic virtue and gallantry, rushed into his sentence, searching in a high-minded manner for nominative and verb, and turning over his dictionary frantically for the first hard word that stopped him. But in the meantime Gower, who was bent on getting to fives, would peep quietly into the crib and then suggest, “Don’t you think this is the meaning? I think you must take it this way, Brown.” And as Tom didn’t see his way to not profiting by these suggestions, the lesson went on about as quickly as usual, and Gower was able to start for the fives’-court within five minutes of the half-hour.

When Tom and East were left face to face, they looked at one another for a minute, Tom puzzled and East chockfull of fun, and then burst into a roar of laughter.

“Well, Tom,” said East, recovering himself, “I don’t see any objection to the new way. It’s about as good as the old one, I think, besides the advantage it gives one of feeling virtuous, and looking down on one’s neighbours.”

Tom shoved his hand into his back hair. “I ain’t so sure,” said he. “You two fellows carried me off my legs; I don’t think we really tried one sentence fairly. Are you sure you remember what the doctor said to you?”

“Yes. And I’ll swear I couldn’t make out one of my sentences to-day. No, nor ever could. I really don’t remember,” said East, speaking slowly and impressively, “to have come across one Latin or Greek sentence this half that I could go and construe by the light of nature. Whereby I am sure Providence intended cribs to be used.”

“The thing to find out,” said Tom meditatively, “is how long one ought to grind at a sentence without looking at the crib. Now I think if one fairly looks out all the words one don’t know, and then can’t hit it, that’s enough.”

“To be sure, Tommy,” said East demurely, but with a merry twinkle in his eye. “Your new doctrine, too, old fellow,” added he, “when one comes to think of it, is a cutting at the root of all school morality. You’ll take away mutual help, brotherly love, or, in the vulgar tongue, giving construes, which I hold to be one of our highest virtues. For how can you distinguish between getting a construe from another boy, and using a crib? Hang it, Tom, if you’re going to deprive all our schoolfellows of the chance of exercising Christian benevolence and being good Samaritans, I shall cut the concern.”

“I wish you wouldn’t joke about it, Harry; it’s hard enough to see one’s way, a precious sight harder than I thought last night. But I suppose there’s a use and an abuse of both, and one’ll get straight enough somehow. But you can’t make out anyhow that one has a right to use old vulgus-books and copy-books.”

“Hullo, more heresy! How fast a fellow goes down-hill when he once gets his head before his legs. Listen to me, Tom. Not use old vulgus-books? Why, you Goth, ain’t we to take the benefit of the wisdom, and admire and use the work of past generations? Not use old copy-books? Why, you might as well say we ought to pull down Westminster Abbey, and put up a go-to-meeting-shop with church-warden windows; or never read Shakespeare, but only Sheridan Knowles. Think of all the work and labour that our predecessors have bestowed on these very books—and are we to make their work of no value?”

“I say, Harry, please don’t chaff; I’m really serious.”

“And then, is it not our duty to consult the pleasure of others rather than our own, and above all that of our masters? Fancy, then, the difference to them in looking over a vulgus which has been carefully touched and retouched by themselves and others, and which must bring them a sort of dreamy pleasure, as if they’d met the thought or expression of it somewhere or another—before they were born, perhaps; and that of cutting up, and making picture-frames round all your and my false quantities, and other monstrosities. Why, Tom, you wouldn’t be so cruel as never to let old Momus hum over the ‘O genus humanum’ again, and then look up doubtingly through his spectacles, and end by smiling and giving three extra marks for it—just for old sake’s sake, I suppose.”

“Well,” said Tom, getting up in something as like a huff as he was capable of, “it’s deuced hard that when a fellow’s really trying to do what he ought his best friends’ll do nothing but chaff him and try to put him down.” And he stuck his books under his arm and his hat on his head, preparatory to rushing out into the quadrangle, to testify with his own soul of the faithlessness of friendships.