This story was begun, within a few months after the publication of the completed
"Pickwick Papers." There were, then, a good many cheap Yorkshire schools in
existence. There are very few now.
Of the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the disregard of it by the
State as a means of forming good or bad citizens, and miserable or happy men,
private schools long afforded a notable example. Although any man who had
proved his unfitness for any other occupation in life, was free, without
examination or qualification, to open a school anywhere; although preparation for
the functions he undertook, was required in the surgeon who assisted to bring a
boy into the world, or might one day assist, perhaps, to send him out of it; in the
chemist, the attorney, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker; the whole
round of crafts and trades, the schoolmaster excepted; and although
schoolmasters, as a race, were the blockheads and impostors who might
naturally be expected to spring from such a state of things, and to flourish in it;
these Yorkshire schoolmasters were the lowest and most rotten round in the
whole ladder. Traders in the avarice, indifference, or imbecility of parents, and
the helplessness of children; ignorant, sordid, brutal men, to whom few
considerate persons would have entrusted the board and lodging of a horse or a
dog; they formed the worthy cornerstone of a structure, which, for absurdity and
a magnificent high-minded LAISSEZ-ALLER neglect, has rarely been exceeded
in the world.
We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified medical
practitioner, who has deformed a broken limb in pretending to heal it. But, what of
the hundreds of thousands of minds that have been deformed for ever by the
incapable pettifoggers who have pretended to form them!
I make mention of the race, as of the Yorkshire schoolmasters, in the past tense.
Though it has not yet finally disappeared, it is dwindling daily. A long day's work
remains to be done about us in the way of education, Heaven knows; but great
improvements and facilities towards the attainment of a good one, have been
furnished, of late years.
I cannot call to mind, now, how I came to hear about Yorkshire schools when I
was a not very robust child, sitting in bye-places near Rochester Castle, with a
head full of PARTRIDGE, STRAP, TOM PIPES, and SANCHO PANZA; but I
know that my first impressions of them were picked up at that time, and that they
were somehow or other connected with a suppurated abscess that some boy had
come home with, in consequence of his Yorkshire guide, philosopher, and friend,
having ripped it open with an inky pen-knife. The impression made upon me,
however made, never left me. I was always curious about Yorkshire schools--fell,
long afterwards and at sundry times, into the way of hearing more about them--at
last, having an audience, resolved to write about them.
With that intent I went down into Yorkshire before I began this book, in very
severe winter time which is pretty faithfully described herein. As I wanted to see a
schoolmaster or two, and was forewarned that those gentlemen might, in their