Matthew to the 9th Lord Kinnaird, 23 February 1863
(MS100/2/bundle525/2, pdf image)
Matthew reports on the plans for extending and refurnishing the local School House. It is clear that this project is under the sponsorship of Lord Kinnaird, as at the end of the letter Matthew looks to Kinnaird for instruction.
Matthew discusses the “new” lecture-based system of school teaching. His early equivocation (“whether improvements I cannot say”) later turns to clear condemnation (“this system is too much of a grinding slavery”; “a child does not prosper in leading strings”). The letter is noteworthy for reasserting the Matthew’s views on race (e.g. Celts are eloquent but have “low features”), and also on a form of visual transference of acquired characteristics (which “would implant its character upon the plastic features & even mind of the children”). Both views can also be found, for example, in On Naval Timber & Arboriculture, along with parallel views on ventilation etc.
Gourdiehill Errol Feb. 23/63
The arrangement & furnishing of the Errol School is a more difficult affair than I anticipated, owing to the alterations (whether improvements I cannot say) that have been made of late in Schools. In those of recent construction the scholars are all placed fronting the teacher, with a rise backwards in the seats & desks, such as we have in theatres, so as the teacher can see the whole at a glance. This would require a new floor & seats & desks, in the portion of the School occupied by the children. Is this change to be made in Errol School? I am quite aware that this is incomparably the best for giving instruction to the scholars in reading writing & arithmetic – that is with an efficient teacher to work the system properly. But is it the best for the intellect & physical development of the children? The fact is that a child, especially a sensitive child, always under the eye of the master, will have his mental faculties cramped as well as his physical under the deadening supervision. The joyous hilarity & spirit of youth will receive an irrecoverable check. This system is too much of a grinding slavery, not suited to the British freeman. When I was at School we had much conversation & fun in the back tables which gave exercise to all our faculties, & when we turned to our lessons we did it in groups, the more intelligent leading the less, & we were free agents – free to act & think for ourselves. A child does not prosper in leading strings. Were the School hours very short this new system might work well under a kind, lively good teacher, & much more school education obtained in a shorter time. It would also require a play ground for the children to relax in every alternate hour. This the Errol School unfortunately does not have.– Under the new system I am afraid that an old inert-looking man such as the Errol master would not readily adapt himself to the change of system. We should require a new man as well as a new organization of means. Besides such is the power of sympathy that his heavy dull countenance constantly staring them in the face would implant its character upon the plastic features & even mind of the children. This would be nearly as bad as the impression I much feared from the low Celtic features of Dr. Laird in Erroll Church, so much gazed up to by our fair Friends – mesmerized by his Celtic eloquence. This was the more to be dreaded in Errol where the children were wont to be of uncommonly fine features. This attention to good features ought to be a primary consideration in a minister or teacher – & in the former is of more importance than a nice construction or resolution of knotty points of doctrine.
In the case of infant Schools, to which our Schools I regret to see are, especially in towns, fast sinking, it is often a matter of choice on the part of the parents, to have some length of school hours to allow some respite to a parent’s charge. In this case of long hours, the present or new system would have the worst effect, & grind the poor children into mere automatons. Whatever plan be adopted & especially in the case of long hours I am very desirous that the School be large, well ventilated, & in winter well heated. The present unwholesome abomination of an iron stove must therefore be removed & good open fire places adopted. As two classes under two teachers are necessary I think the School should be lengthened little, which can easily be done by taking in the Hearse house. This length where the speaking of two classes would not much interfere with each other is better than two appartments, as the second teacher in such a school as Errol would require to be under the eye of the head teacher, more even than the children themselves. The want of a play ground is a great defect in Errol School & cannot be attained without a change of site.
In doubt how to proceed under the above rival systems & waiting for instruction
your ob[edient] servant
[To] The Right Hon. Lord Kinnaird
Page created: 10 February 2019
Last modified: 10 February 2019