Page images

Arcot. Nine days afterwards he was nominated to the deputy chaplainship of the 19th Regiment of Cavalry. In Cctober he obtained a second deputy chaplainship to the 36th, then at Poonamalce; and on the day following to a third, in the 52nd Regiment. During this time he delivered a course of philosophical lectures, which produced him the sum of £360. A second course, only producing about one half of this amount, he sailed with his apparatus for Calcutta, where he experienced 'the most gratifying reception. Lord Cornwallis invited him to his table, and allowed him the use of his court-house for his lectures. The course brought him nearly £500. 'In less than a month after his return to Madras he was appointed deputy chaplain to the 74th, being the fifth appointment conferred upon him in little more than a year and a half. This was, indeed, to use his own phrase, found in an early letter, 'encouragement in the line of the church.'

But even this was not enough. Three other appointments shortly followed, all of which were accepted by the greedy pluralist without compunction. Kehama,' says Dr. Southey, with quiet, but biting sarcasm, 'who was in eight places at once, was a type of Dr. Bell at this time. Some of these offices may

have been sinecures; but there is good proof among his papers that none of them were sine-salaries.' One of the appointments, that of undertaker-general, was a strange one to be held by a clergyman, and curious' indeed are the instructions' drawn up by him, in his new character of furnisher of funerals, for the lower functionary who did all the work, and received from the doctor a graduated per centage on the cost of the interment.

Subsequently, the government of Madras and the Directors, were brought to see the unfitness of continuing such a state of things; but, alas, no one seems to have been at all affected by the iniquity involved in thus 'leaving the garrisons and corps destitute of religious ordinances.' The extent of this deprivation may be gathered from the following remarks, which occur in a letter from Colonel Floyd, then at Chevilimidoo. Come here,' he says; 'at your arrival you will find your flock disposed to follow whithersoever you

shall lead. I am ashamed to say I do not think I have either Bible or Prayer Book at this place, and I cannot answer for it that anybody else has ; so you will please to take your measures accordingly. We have one or two little ones that we mean to present to you for baptism.' Yet Colonel Floyd was not a thoughtless man. He writes: 'I am covered with confusion when I reflect to how little account I waste the fleeting hour. Others are idle too, but that is a shabby consolation. A man in truth lives but so many hours as he employs. What children many are who die of old age!'


Still not satisfied, the Doctor remembers Mrs. Berkeley's advice to plough with the heifer,' and writes to Lady Dacre, as well as to Mr. Dundas and Mr. Smith, earnestly soliciting them to procure his removal to Calcutta, “and his appointment to the first vacant chaplainship at that settlement.' Mr. Smith excused himself on the score of illness. "What other replies he received,' his biographer tells us, “is not known.' 'Perhaps,' he adds, ' his patrons thought the solicitation as unreasonable, as in truth it was.'

The death of his father, of which he was informed by letter in 1789, affected him deeply. After trying in vain,' he says, in a letter to Dr. Adamson, 'to stand this shock, I have left my duty to my friend and colleague, Archdeacon Leslie, and returned to the country, where I am secluded from every European countenance. Here I am at leisure to indulge grief, and thereby to prevent its violent effusion; to survey my past life; to correct those errors that may have brought upon me such sufferings; and to lay down rules for my future conduct, from which, if I ever swerve, it must be from depravity of inclination, and not strength of temptation.'

In the spring of 1793, he delivered a third course of lectures at Madras, in one of which he performed the experiment of making ice, which was the first time it had been exhibited in India.' He had previously been elected a member of the Asiatic Society, and he now realized about 600 pagodas.

Scarcely had the lectures been concluded, before the governor in council appointed him 'to do duty as chaplain to the army assembled before Pondicherry, with an allowance of one hundred pagodas per mensem, to defray his extraordinary expenses while so employed. Here, (when not engaged in some of the mournful offices which he was called upon to perform,) ‘his time passed pleasantly. When the batteries were opened, he was rash enough to go into the trenches, and Colonel Floyd, who was the most intimate of his friends, when he took possession of the fort, ordered him to walk into it by his side.'

The expedition over, a new and altogether different scene now opens.

The Military Orphan Asylum in Madras is at length established, and Dr. Bell offers his services as superintendent without salary, a step which some of his friends thought he had taken with far too little consideration of his own interest. But the Doctor, wiser in his generation than they suspected, adhered to his own judgment, and declined receiving any compensation out of the subscription.

To this important work he devoted himself, with a zeal and assiduity highly creditable. Struggling manfully against the difficulties of his situation,-hindered rather than helped by obstinate and incapable teachers,- distressed by the want of discipline, and painfully conscious of the unreasonable time consumed in imparting to the children a knowledge even of the letters of the alphabet, he pondered much and deeply on the perplexities of his position, and amid surrounding gloom, looked anxiously, but in vain, in all directions, for a single ray of light. Mr. Southey's words will best describe the breaking of the day.

• Things were in this state, when, happening on one of his morning rides to pass by a Malabar school, he observed the children seated on the ground, and writing with their fingers in sand, which had for that purpose been strewn before them. He hastened home, repeating to himself as he went, 'Evpnka, ‘I have discovered it;' and gave immediate orders to the usher of the lowest classes to teach the alphabet in the same manner, with this difference only from the Malabar mode, that the sand was strewn upon a board. These orders were either disregarded, or so carelessly executed, as if they were thought not worth regarding; and after frequent admonitions, and repeated trials made without either expectation or wish of succeeding, the usher at last declared it was impossible to teach the boys in that way. If he had acted on this occasion in good will, and with merely common ability, Dr. Bell might never have cried 'Evpnka a second time. But he was not a man to be turned from his purpose by the obstinacy of others, nor to be baffled in it by their incapacity; baffled, however, he was now sensible that he must be, if he depended for the execution of his plans on the will and ability of those over whose minds he had no command. He bethought himself of employing a boy, on whose obedience, disposition, and cleverness he could rely, and giving him charge of the alphabet class. The lad's name was John Friskin; he was the son of a private soldier, had learned his letters in the asylum, and was then about eight years old. Dr. Bell laid the strongest injunctions upon him to follow his instructions ; saying, he should look to him for the success of the simple and easy method which was to be pursued, and hold him responsible for it. What the usher had pronounced to be impossible, this lad succeeded in effecting without any difficulty. The alphabet was now as much better taught, as till then it had been worse than any other part of the boys' studies; and Friskin, in consequence, was appointed permanent teacher of that class.

• Though Dr. Bell did not immediately perceive the whole importance of this successful experiment, he proceeded in the course into which he had been as it were compelled. What Friskin had accomplished with the alphabet class, might, in like manner, be done with those next in order, by boys selected as he had been, for their aptitude to learn and to teach. Accordingly, he appointed boys as assistant teachers to some of the lower classes, giving, however, to Friskin the charge of superintending both the assistants and their classes, because of his experience and the readiness with which he apprehended and executed whatever was required from him. This

[ocr errors]

talent, indeed, the lad possessed in such perfection, that Dr. Bell did not besitate to throw upon him the entire responsibility of this part of the school. The same improvement was now manifested in these classes as had taken place in teaching the alphabet. This he attributed to the diligence and fidelity with which his little friends, as he used to call them, performed his orders. To them a smile of approbation was no mean reward, and a look of displeasure sufficient punishment. Even in this stage he felt confident, that nothing more was wanting to bring the school into such a state as he had always proposed to himself, than to carry through the whole of the plan upon which he was now proceeding; and this, accordingly, was done. The experiment, which from necessity had been tried at first with one class, was systematically extended to all the others in progression; and what is most important with soholastic improvement, moral improvement, not less in consequence of the system, is said to have kept pace. For the assistant teachers, being invested with authority, not because of their standing in the school, retained their influence at all times, and it was their business to interpose whenever their interference was necessary ; such interference prevented all that tyranny and ill-usage from which so much of the evil connected with boarding schools arises; and all that mischief in which some boys are engaged by a mischievous disposition, more by mere wantonness, and a still greater number by the example of their companions. The boys were thus rendered inoffensive towards others, and among themselves; and this gentle preventive discipline made them, in its sure consequences, contented and happy. A boy was appointed over each class to marshal them when they went to church or walked out, and to see that they duly performed the operations of combing and washing themselves. Ten boys were appointed daily to clean the school room, and to wait upon the others at their meals. Twice a week during the hot season, and once a week during the monsoon season, they were marched by an usher to the tank, and there they bathed by classes.

As to any purposes of instruction, the master and ushers were now virtually superseded. They attended the school so as to maintain the observance of the rules; though even this was scarcely necessary under Dr. Bell's vigilant superintendance, who now made the school the great pleasure as well as the great business of his life. Their duty was, not io teach, but to look after the various departments of the institution, to see that the daily tasks were performed, to take care of the boys in and out of school, and to mark any irregularity or neglect either in them or the teachers.'

His letters to his friends from this time (1792) until his return to Europe, which took place, in consequence of the failure of his health, in 1796, are filled with accounts of the school, which now engrossed all his thoughts. From these it clearly appears, that he considered the main principle of his system to be, 'tuition by the scholars themselves, or, as it was afterwards called, mutual instruction, and that he had carried this principle so fully into action, that 'the whole business of instruction was for a time carried on exclusively by the boys themselves.'*

While, however, we freely admit thus much, we can by no means allow the claim subsequently made on his behalf, that he was as much the discoverer of the principle of conducting a school by means of the scholars themselves, ' as Franklin was of electricity, or Jenner of vaccination. The chevalier Paulet had certainly preceded him. In the Literary Repository for April 16th, 1788, there is an account of the establishment of this celebrated man in Paris, translated from the Journal of Geneva. Two principles are there distinctly laid down as carried out in his school. One is, that 'the pupils govern themselves;' the other, that 'the care of instruction is a great extent devolved upon the scholars.' A president of the parliament of Bordeaux, who was visiting this institution, was, it is said, so much struck with the abilities of a scholar of fourteen, in instructing his class, that he engaged him as tutor to his son, a boy of eight years old. Similar details abundantly shew that fifteen years before the Madras Asylum was instituted, the principle of mutual instruction was both known and practised. There is, however, no reason to suppose that Dr. Bell was at all acquainted with this experiment. His plans were unquestionably his own.

He now turned a longing eye towards England. How long he should stay, and with how much money he should be satisfied, are questions frequently occurring in the correspondence. * Bring a good constitution, and £10,000 with you,' says his friend Mr. Dempster, 'and you wont desire to return from wanting the comforts of life. “Single gentlemen,' writes Mr. Ames, may certainly be comfortable upon £500 per annum, but if a family is in view, double that income will be necessary.' But the Doctor again looked further than his friends. 'Say,' he writes to Mrs. Cockburn, 'what the living in the church should be, to induce a man to forego India ?' The reply is not

• Dr. Bell's philosophical apparatus having been purchased by the government of Madras for the purpose of being presented to Tippoo Sultan, Smith, one of the boys of the asylum who had occasionally assisted the Dr. in his experiments, was appointed to take charge of it on the road, and to exhibit before the sultan. Tippoo was found to possess more knowledge of this kind than was supposed. He exhibited a condensing, engine of his own making, which spouted water higher than Smith's; he understood the management of the electrical machine ;' and instead of regarding the experiments as mere amusements, he immediately sought to make the apparatus available for the introduction of useful knowledge among his people.

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »