Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/434

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OLD Education

is the "half itinerant life" of the master. No other account of the old district school approaches this one in charm. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Grandfather's Chair retells the story of Ezekiel Cheever; and Daffy-down-Dilly and other stories draw on the rich experience of the district school. Henry Ward Beecher's Norwood (1868) is a tale, or rather a series of sketches, of New England life in which the New England academy finds a place, as it properly should, since no institution or phase of life was more characteristic of this period. In a more humorous vein is Oliver Wendell Holmes's description of the Apollinean Female Institute in Elsie Venner. At a later day and in more attractive form the New England private school receives probably the most attractive treatment given to a school in American literature in J. G. Holland's Arthur Bonnicastle (1873).

If American literature is not rich in materials chosen from the schools, probably no other literature is so enriched by casual references to the school. Perhaps no evidence of the practical efficiency and worth of the American public schools is more significant than the frequent reference in public speech, in the daily press, in ephemeral or permanent literature, to "the little red schoolhouse." This conventional phrase typifies the simple and somewhat forbidding form of our education of the past, and at the same time the sturdy activities and high ideals of our moral life from which the generations of the past have drawn their sustenance. If our theme were the contribution of educators to literature a most fruitful subject would here be presented. For the mid-century productive period in American literature was closely associated with college life, particularly in New England. The period when Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, and Agassiz were members of the Harvard faculty was an epoch-making one in our American literature. Holmes's Pro fessor at the Breakfast Table and Longfellow's Outre-Mer give the flavour of this life and make the nearest approach to the subject of the technical educator; perhaps by the same measure they fall below the literary standard of the other writings of these professors.

The one ambitious attempt to draw the materials of fiction from the life of the school is found in Locke Amsden, or the Schoolmaster (1847),[1] by Daniel Pierce Thompson. The old

  1. See Book II, Chap.VII.