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

Sadi (c. 1213–1291)

The Strict Schoolmaster and the Mild

From “The Rose Garden” (Gulistan)

IN the west of Africa I saw a schoolmaster of a sour aspect and bitter speech, crabbed, misanthropic, and intemperate, insomuch that the sight of him would derange the ecstasies of the orthodox, and his manner of reading the Koran cast a gloom over the minds of the pious. A number of handsome boys and lovely virgins were subject to his despotic sway; they had neither the permission of a smile nor the option of a word, for this moment he would smite the silver cheek of one of them with his hand, and the next put the crystalline legs of another in the stocks. In short, their parents, I heard, were made aware of a part of his angry violence, and beat and drove him from his charge.

They made over his school to a peaceable creature, so pious, meek, simple, and good-natured that he never spoke till forced to do so, nor would he utter a word that could offend anybody. The children forgot that awe in which they had held their first master, and remarking the angelic disposition of their second master, they became one after another as wicked as devils. Relying on his clemency, they would so neglect their studies as to pass most part of their time at play, and break the tablets of their unfinished tasks over each other’s heads.

When the schoolmaster relaxes in his discipline, the children will stop to play at marbles in the market-place.

A fortnight after I passed by the gate of that mosque, and saw the first schoolmaster, with whom they had been obliged to make friends and to restore him to his place. I was in truth offended, and calling on God to witness, asked, saying, “Why have they again made a devil the preceptor of angels?”

A facetious old gentleman, who had seen much of life, listened to me, and replied, “A king sent his son to school, and hung a tablet of silver round his neck. On the face of that tablet he had had written in golden letters, ‘The severity of the master is more useful than the indulgence of the father.’”