Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Four Judgments on Student Performance

R.P.G. Williamson, quoted in Caroline Jebb, Life and Letters of Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1907), p. 189:
Then came the formula, varying only with the book that was being read and the particular student addressed: 'We begin, this morning, gentlemen, Herodotus, Book IX, page 64, section 23: Mr Smith, bench 12, will you begin, please?' I wish I could give the cadence of these words; it is clear enough in my own ears, and every old student who reads this will recall the well-known tones.

The words were spoken most precisely, slowly, and distinctly, and the request to Mr Smith was given in a gradually ascending pitch but in as gradual a diminuendo of loudness so as not to alarm that gentleman unduly. Mr Smith, it must be remembered, did not expect the honour, for Jebb went through the class in such a way that no one knew when he was to be invited to exhibit his power of translation and his scholarship. After Smith had got through his translation he was asked some questions and then followed one of four judgments by the professor. If he had done first-rate he received the encomium, 'Thank you, Mr Smith; very well' (the last two words in a gentle murmur of appreciation); if he had done pretty well, he was greeted with, 'Thank you, Mr Smith' (the voice still genial); if his performance was moderate, he escaped with the words, 'That will do, Mr Smith' (the voice indicative of slight boredom), and if he had muddled through, the awful sentence came, as if from Olympus, 'Sit down, Mr Smith.' No one who heard these unvarying judgments and the delicate and deliberate shading of the tones of the voice in which they were pronounced will ever forget them.

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