The Professor HTML version

Chapter 16
In the course of another fortnight I had seen sufficient of Frances Evans Henri, to
enable me to form a more definite opinion of her character. I found her
possessed in a somewhat remarkable degree of at least two good points, viz.,
perseverance and a sense of duty; I found she was really capable of applying to
study, of contending with difficulties. At first I offered her the same help which I
had always found it necessary to confer on the others; I began with unloosing for
her each knotty point, but I soon discovered that such help was regarded by my
new pupil as degrading; she recoiled from it with a certain proud impatience.
Hereupon I appointed her long lessons, and left her to solve alone any
perplexities they might present. She set to the task with serious ardour, and
having quickly accomplished one labour, eagerly demanded more. So much for
her perseverance; as to her sense of duty, it evinced itself thus: she liked to
learn, but hated to teach; her progress as a pupil depended upon herself, and I
saw that on herself she could calculate with certainty; her success as a teacher
rested partly, perhaps chiefly, upon the will of others; it cost her a most painful
effort to enter into conflict with this foreign will, to endeavour to bend it into
subjection to her own; for in what regarded people in general the action of her will
was impeded by many scruples; it was as unembarrassed as strong where her
own affairs were concerned, and to it she could at any time subject her
inclination, if that inclination went counter to her convictions of right; yet when
called upon to wrestle with the propensities, the habits, the faults of others, of
children especially, who are deaf to reason, and, for the most part, insensate to
persuasion, her will sometimes almost refused to act; then came in the sense of
duty, and forced the reluctant will into operation. A wasteful expense of energy
and labour was frequently the consequence; Frances toiled for and with her
pupils like a drudge, but it was long ere her conscientious exertions were
rewarded by anything like docility on their part, because they saw that they had
power over her, inasmuch as by resisting her painful attempts to convince,
persuade, control--by forcing her to the employment of coercive measures--they
could inflict upon her exquisite suffering. Human beings--human children
especially--seldom deny themselves the pleasure of exercising a power which
they are conscious of possessing, even though that power consist only in a
capacity to make others wretched; a pupil whose sensations are duller than
those of his instructor, while his nerves are tougher and his bodily strength
perhaps greater, has an immense advantage over that instructor, and he will
generally use it relentlessly, because the very young, very healthy, very
thoughtless, know neither how to sympathize nor how to spare. Frances, I fear,
suffered much; a continual weight seemed to oppress her spirits; I have said she
did not live in the house, and whether in her own abode, wherever that might be,
she wore the same preoccupied, unsmiling, sorrowfully resolved air that always
shaded her features under the roof of Mdlle. Reuter, I could not tell.
One day I gave, as a devoir, the trite little anecdote of Alfred tending cakes in the
herdsman's hut, to be related with amplifications. A singular affair most of the