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1. Of An Educational Character
The school at which young Charley Hexam had first learned from a book--the
streets being, for pupils of his degree, the great Preparatory Establishment in
which very much that is never unlearned is learned without and before book--was
a miserable loft in an unsavoury yard. Its atmosphere was oppressive and
disagreeable; it was crowded, noisy, and confusing; half the pupils dropped
asleep, or fell into a state of waking stupefaction; the other half kept them in
either condition by maintaining a monotonous droning noise, as if they were
performing, out of time and tune, on a ruder sort of bagpipe. The teachers,
animated solely by good intentions, had no idea of execution, and a lamentable
jumble was the upshot of their kind endeavours.
It was a school for all ages, and for both sexes. The latter were kept apart, and
the former were partitioned off into square assortments. But, all the place was
pervaded by a grimly ludicrous pretence that every pupil was childish and
innocent. This pretence, much favoured by the lady-visitors, led to the ghastliest
absurdities. Young women old in the vices of the commonest and worst life, were
expected to profess themselves enthralled by the good child's book, the
Adventures of Little Margery, who resided in the village cottage by the mill;
severely reproved and morally squashed the miller, when she was five and he
was fifty; divided her porridge with singing birds; denied herself a new nankeen
bonnet, on the ground that the turnips did not wear nankeen bonnets, neither did
the sheep who ate them; who plaited straw and delivered the dreariest orations
to all comers, at all sorts of unseasonable times. So, unwieldy young dredgers
and hulking mudlarks were referred to the experiences of Thomas Twopence,
who, having resolved not to rob (under circumstances of uncommon atrocity) his
particular friend and benefactor, of eighteenpence, presently came into
supernatural possession of three and sixpence, and lived a shining light ever
afterwards. (Note, that the benefactor came to no good.) Several swaggering
sinners had written their own biographies in the same strain; it always appearing
from the lessons of those very boastful persons, that you were to do good, not
because it WAS good, but because you were to make a good thing of it.
Contrariwise, the adult pupils were taught to read (if they could learn) out of the
New Testament; and by dint of stumbling over the syllables and keeping their
bewildered eyes on the particular syllables coming round to their turn, were as
absolutely ignorant of the sublime history, as if they had never seen or heard of
it. An exceedingly and confoundingly perplexing jumble of a school, in fact, where
black spirits and grey, red spirits and white, jumbled jumbled jumbled jumbled,
jumbled every night. And particularly every Sunday night. For then, an inclined