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Education Through The Senses
by [?]

I end these intentionally irregular remarks by a story. Some years ago I was in one of the wildest recesses of the Perthshire Highlands. It was in autumn, and the little school supported mainly by the Chief, who dwelt all the year round in the midst of his own people, was to be examined by the minister, whose native tongue, like that of his flock, was Gaelic, and who was as awkward and ineffectual, and sometimes as unconsciously indecorous, in his English, as a Cockney is in his kilt. It was a great occasion: the keen-eyed, firm-limbed, brown-cheeked little fellows were all in a buzz of excitement as we came in, and before the examination began every eye was looking at us strangers as a dog looks at his game, or when seeking it; they knew everything we had on, everything that could be known through their senses. I never felt myself so studied and scrutinized before. If any one could have examined them upon what they thus mastered, Sir Charles Trevelyan and John Mill would have come away astonished, and, I trust, humble. Well then, the work of the day began; the mill was set a-going, and what a change! In an instant their eyes were like the windows of a house with the blinds down; no one was looking out; everything blank; their very features changed–their jaws fell, their cheeks flattened, they drooped and looked ill at ease–stupid, drowsy, sulky–and getting them to speak, or think, or in any way to energize, was like trying to get any one to come to the window at three of a summer morning, when, if they do come, they are half awake, rubbing their eyes and growling. So with my little Celts. They were like an idle and half asleep collie by the fireside, as contrasted with the collie on the hill and in the joy of work; the form of dog and boy are there–he, the self of each, was elsewhere (for I differ from Professor Ferrier in thinking that the dog has the reflex ego, and is a very knowing being.) I noticed that anything they really knew roused them somewhat; what they had merely to transmit or pass along, as if they were a tube through which the master blew the pea of knowledge into our faces, was performed as stolidly as if they were nothing but a tube.

At last the teacher asked where Sheffield was, and was answered; it was then pointed to by the dux, as a dot on a skeleton map. And now came a flourish. “What is Sheffield famous for?” Blank stupor, hopeless vacuity, till he came to a sort of sprouting Dougal Cratur–almost as wee, and as glegg, and as tousy about the head, as my own Kintail terrier, whom I saw at that moment through the open door careering after a hopeless rabbit, with much benefit to his muscles and his wind–who was trembling with keenness. He shouted out something which was liker “cutlery” than anything else, and was received as such amid our rapturous applause. I then ventured to ask the master to ask small and red Dougal what cutlery was; but from the sudden erubescence of his pallid, ill-fed cheek, and the alarming brightness of his eyes, I twigged at once that he didn’t himself know what it meant. So I put the question myself, and was not surprised to find that not one of them, from Dougal up to a young strapping shepherd of eighteen, knew what it was.

I told them that Sheffield was famous for making knives, and scissors, and razors, and that cutlery meant the manufacture of anything that cuts. Presto! and the blinds were all up, and eagerness, and nous, and brains at the window. I happened to have a Wharncliffe, with “Rodgers and Sons, Sheffield,” on the blade. I sent it round, and finally presented it to the enraptured Dougal. Would not each one of those boys, the very boobiest there, know that knife again when they saw it, and be able to pass a creditable competitive examination on all its ins and outs? and wouldn’t they remember “cutlery” for a day or two! Well, the examination over, the minister performed an oration of much ambition and difficulty to himself and to us, upon the general question, and a great many other questions, into which his Gaelic subtilty fitted like the mists into the hollows of Ben-a-Houlich, with, it must be allowed, a somewhat similar tendency to confuse and conceal what was beneath; and he concluded with thanking the Chief, as he well might, for his generous support of “this aixlent CEMETERY of aedication.” Cemetery indeed! The blind leading the blind, with the ancient result; the dead burying their dead.