The Old and The New Schoolmaster by Charles Lamb Summary
Lamb begins the essay with a highly exaggerated account of his ignorance and indifference. He proposes that he has a little idea or no knowledge about science, various divisions of science, geography, mathematics, astronomy, trades, commerce and many other subjects. But he neither repents for his weakness nor does he feel curiosity to know more. He is in happy mood with his gigantic ignorance. He is so incurious in everything that if the sun were to rise one morning in the west, he would not be surprised. But he fears to stand before face-to-face-talk with other for the truth will be out.
Once Lamb fell in a very embarrassing situation during his journey from Bishopsgate to Shacklewell by a coach sitting in a particular compartment where only two passengers including him were travelling. The opponent was a schoolmaster, obviously a new school master. The schoolmaster went on questioning Lamb on various subject of which he had no conceptions. As a result all the time he tried to parry his questions, as he was unable to give satisfactory answers, Lamb gained relief when that serious looking, kind-hearted person got down from the train. Though the person had spoiled the pleasure of half of his journey, the nature and deportment of the person persuaded Lamb to search for a comparison between old and new school master.
The old schoolmaster gave much importance on language on grammar and on the strict grammatical rules. They thought, Study of languages is the be-all and end-all of knowledge and education. They passed their student life in practicing grammar and so did the afterlife. All days were alike and same for them as they did nothing other than minute study of grammar. The day of old school master passed by very quickly between learning and teaching of grammar only. However, that races are now no more.
The modern school master is the least concerned about grammar He desires for having general knowledge. He strives to gather more and more knowledge from any source at any cost. That is why the schoolmaster, sitting in front of Lamb, asked questions from not any fixed topic. The modern schoolmaster wants to gather knowledge a little of everything. His knowledge must be many-sided. All subjects are equally necessary for him to study and teach. He teaches inside and outside of the classroom. He claims no interval. Every incident and every scene is, as it were, a text for him to extract a moral for the assimilation of his pupils. Even during the vacations, he has to remain engaged in teaching some rich though dull students who accompany him like shadow all the time.
- Charles Lamb as an Essayist
Then Lamb explains that the children get more comfort and ease when children themselves become their companions. The same happens in the cases of grown-ups. If a boy acts as a companion of a grown-up person, neither the boy nor the aged person will enjoy the company of each other. After this, Lamb says that he never accompanies such person who has very superior capacity and intellect to his own. It is because a man who is more learned and abler, wants to keep others down beneath him, instead of raising them. If you accompany always with a man superior to you, your mind will be entangled with him, and you will lose the power of your own mind.
We never feel too much easy in the presence of a school master and the schoolmaster also feels uneasy in our company. A schoolmaster who is quite fit for school and to his pupils, is equally awkward and unfit for social companion. Being proud of his intellect he always keeps an unbridgeable gap between him and common people. Even the jokes of a schoolmaster are only fit for school, they appear coarse and inflective out of school.
In the last paragraph Lamb brings out the pathos of a school master’s life, with help of a letter supposed to have been addressed by a schoolmaster to a friend of his whose nephew had been his ex-student Schoolmasters are always surrounded by young enthusiastic boys whose hearts are full of love, but they can never expect to share even an iota of that love with their master. The sober and grave relation between school masters and his students, highly prohibits the students to love their teachers. When an ex-student comes to pay a visit to his schoolmaster, he has all reverence for his beloved teacher. Sometimes he brings gilts either for him or for his wife, but he never loves his master. It is obviously pathetic. The schoolmaster is not happy even in his private life. He cannot expect the love of his own wife. During the hour of repose, when he approaches to his wife for love-talk, his wife goes on telling about sapless domestic affair. His wife and he are more concerned with the students than with each other. She takes much care of the schoolmaster and sacrifices her life for his duties, yet she regards him as the “boys’ master”, not as her darling husband. Thus, her show of love and affection for him would be highly improper.
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