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

Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771)

Unregretted School Days

From “Roderick Random”

I WAS sent to school at a village hard by, of which my grandfather had been dictator time out of mind; but as he neither paid for my board, nor supplied me with clothes, books, and other necessaries I required, my condition was very ragged and contemptible; and the schoolmaster, who through fear of my grandfather taught me gratis, gave himself no concern about the progress I made under his instruction.

In spite of all these difficulties and disgraces, I became a good proficient in the Latin tongue; and as soon as I could write tolerably, pestered my grandfather with letters to such a degree, that he sent for my master and chid him severely for bestowing such pains on my education, telling him that if ever I should be brought to the gallows for forgery, which he had taught me to commit, my blood would lie on his head. The pedant, who dreaded nothing more than the displeasure of his patron, assured his Honour that the boy’s ability was more owing to his own genius and application than to any instruction or encouragement he received; that, although he could not divest him of the knowledge he had already imbibed unless he would empower him to disable his fingers, he should endeavour, with God’s help, to prevent his future improvement. And, indeed, he punctually performed what he had undertaken; for, on pretence that I had written impertinent letters to my grandfather, he caused a board to be made with five holes in it, through which he thrust the fingers and thumb of my right hand, and fastened it with a whip-cord to my wrist in such a manner as effectually debarred me from the use of my pen. But this restraint I was freed from in a few days, by an accident which happened in a quarrel between me and another boy, who, taking upon him to insult my poverty, I was so incensed at his ungenerous reproach, that with one stroke of my machine I cut him to the skull, to the great terror of myself and schoolfellows, who left him bleeding on the ground, and ran to inform the master of what had happened. I was so severely punished for this trespass, that were I to live to the age of Methusalem, the impression it made on me would not be effaced, no more than the antipathy and horror I conceived for the merciless tyrant who inflicted it.

The contempt which my appearance naturally produced in all who saw me, the continual wants to which I was exposed, and my own haughty disposition, impatient of affronts, involved me in a thousand troublesome adventures, by which I was at length inured to adversity, and emboldened to undertakings far above my years. I was often inhumanly scourged for crimes I did not commit, because, having the character of a vagabond in the village, every piece of mischief, whose author lay unknown, was charged upon me. I have been found guilty of robbing orchards I never entered, of killing cats I never hurted, of stealing gingerbread I never touched, and of abusing old women I never saw. Nay, a stammering carpenter had eloquence enough to persuade my master that I fired a pistol, loaded with small shot, into his window; though my landlady and the whole family bore witness that I was abed, fast asleep, at the time when this outrage was committed. I was once flogged for having narrowly escaped drowning, by the sinking of a ferry-boat in which I was passenger; another time for having recovered of a bruise occasioned by a horse and cart running over me; a third time for being bit by a baker’s dog. In short, whether I was guilty or unfortunate, the correction and sympathy of this arbitrary pedagogue were the same.