Sunday, January 25, 2015


Dr. Buzby Examines the Class in the Bishop's Presence

F.A. Paley (1815-1888), "The Adventures of a Schoolboy. By a Convert," Dolman's Magazine 6 (July-December 1847) 319-327, 383-402, and 7 (January-June 1848) 20-25, 105-114, 138-147, 213-219, 286-290, 366-374 (at 7:21-24, from chapter VII):
Suddenly the doctor raised his head, and said, in a quick loud tone, "Wiggins."

Poor Wiggins started from his seat exactly as if he had been shot. He had to descend from the top-most tier of seats, and walk across the schoolroom to a kind of stool, upon which lessons were said into the doctor's left ear. He tried to look composed and confident; but the attempt was decidedly a failure. It was evident that he had lost all presence of mind, and might be guilty of any absurdity. He was a clever lad, but so exceedingly nervous that the doctor could not have made a worse choice, if his object was to exhibit to the bishop the proficiency of his second-class scholars.

"Shew me what you have been reading this last fortnight," said the doctor.

Wiggins gave him his book, devoutly hoping he might be asked to do what he had read yesterday or the day before.

"Is this the way you employ your time in school?" asked Dr. Buzby, turning to the end of Wiggins' book, and holding up a sketch of a bandy-legged pedagogue, in a portentous bag-wig, in the act of flogging the bare posteriors of a boy. Underneath was written: "Old Bandy walloping Jem Stumps." Poor Wiggins turned pale as death. It really was too bad; it was a breach of honour in the doctor.

"Go on, sir," thundered the doctor, "at Ecce puer."

Wiggins coughed, gasped, stammered, and began:

"Ecce, behold, puer, the boy, Veneris, of Venus—"

"Read it first," interposed the doctor.

"Ecce puer Veneris fert eversamque pharetram,
    Et fractos arcus, et sine luce facem;
Aspice demissus ut eat miserabilis alis,
    Pectoraque infesta tundat aperta manu."

"Now," said the doctor. And Wiggins contrived to put the four verses of Ovid's beautiful Elegy to Tibullus into respectable English.

"From what is pharetra derived?" asked the doctor, looking hard at him. "From the Greek, sir," answered Wiggins, very readily.

Hereupon the Bishop was distinctly seen to nod assent, as much as to say "Not so bad."

"And what is the Greek word from?" added the head master.

"From the Hebrew, sir," said Wiggins. This was a guess, but he thought he couldn't be far wrong. The doctor looked a little disconcerted.

"The root of it has been deduced ultimately from the cognate Sanscrit para," said the doctor, leaning back in his seat with a very pedantic air. "I mean, however, what Greek verb does the substantive come from?"

Wiggins was at fault. Another boy who sat near him, but out of the doctor's ken, promptly wrote on a piece of paper φέρω in very large letters, and held it up to him.

Alas! Wiggins was very shortsighted! He could only discern a dim outline on the paper; so in desperation he answered, after a moment's pause, "φιμόω, sir."

The doctor looked as black as his own ink-pot. The bishop didn't seem exactly to comprehend whether the answer was right or wrong, so he looked amiably neutral.

"And what is φιμόω?" he asked. Wiggins knew this, and answered "to muzzle."

"What then has a muzzle to do with a quiver?" said the doctor. A bright thought seemed to illumine Wiggins' brain. He doubted not but he had read the word aright; and there could be but one explanation—though it did seem rather odd—it was a hazard.

"Because quivers are tied up at the end to prevent the arrows from falling out at the mouth."

"Bah!" bellowed the doctor, in a voice of thunder. The bishop smiled good-naturedly.

"And pray, fool, can you tell me why Cupid carries your muzzled quiver, and a torch in his hand?" continued the doctor.

Wiggins couldn't doubt this at all. He had seen it a hundred times in Valentines, and in French picture books about love. So he unhesitatingly answered, "To toast and stick lovers' hearts, sir."

"You may go down, sir," said the doctor. Poor Wiggins descended, and caught a glimpse of the bishop holding his handkerchief to his mouth to prevent laughing. He felt that he must have said something very absurd, though he couldn't for his life conceive what it was.

After a short pause and interval of suspense, the doctor exclaimed, "Wicks."

A short dry cough was heard somewhere in the region of the furthermost form, and Wicks rose deliberately, descended, and walked slowly across the school with his hands in his pockets, and a closed book under his arm. He had been cracking nuts, or rather splitting them with a penknife, by a convenient process well known to schoolboys. He was both audibly and visibly chewing a plump kernel as he advanced towards the doctor's desk.

Now Wicks was, as we have already intimated, a boy of invincible impudence, audacity, and composure, under the most trying circumstances. Nothing could disturb his equanimity and self-possession. Not even the presence of a real live bishop shook his confidence. He was cool as a cucumber as he ascended the stool.

A companion and rival in impudence he had, who, being a bosom friend, had been sitting by him during the examination. A slip of white paper (commonly called a "pig-tail") had been playfully introduced by him under the collar of his friend's coat, just at the moment of the fearful summons, so that as he walked away from us towards the doctor, we could not help laughing at the ridiculous figure he made. The doctor, however, saw it not, but only cried out "Silence!"

Having finished his nut, and gulped down the accumulated débris of many others, of which he had a considerable store reserved in his cheek, to the great impediment of distinct articulation, Master Wicks opened his book, and winked at his schoolfellows. It was really irresistible. Three or four boys instantaneously exploded, and were ordered to write out a book of Homer on the spot.

"Now, sir," said the doctor, "Read."

Wicks commenced in a harsh unpoetical voice:

"Ferte per extremas gentes, et ferte per undas,
   Qua non ulla meum fœmina norit iter."

"Construe," said the doctor.

"Ferte, carry me, per extremas gentes, over extreme nations, et, and, ferte, carry me, per undas, over waves, qua, where, non ulla fœmina, never a female, norit, will know, meum iter, my path."

This was said all in a breath, without the least stop, and of course without the slightest appreciation of the exquisite sentiment conveyed by those lines of Propertius.

"A little coarse, sir, a little coarse," said the doctor, "especially at non ulla fœmina. What part of speech is qua?

"An adverb, sir."

"A pronoun relative," growled Dr. Buzby, "in the ablative case, agreeing with parte or via understood."

"The grammar says it's an adverb," retorted Wicks, nothing daunted, and at the same time producing a thumbed Latin grammar, bound in coarse canvas, from his coat pocket. "Here's the rule."

The doctor could not stand this. He turned red with rage, and dashed the grammar at Wicks's head, who adroitly avoided it by a scientific ducking of that important member.

"What! shew me a grammar," he exclaimed, "a dirty, stupid, ignorant child's grammar! I'll teach you to know better. Write out two hundred lines, beginning at the First Book."

"Please, sir, you told us last time never to come up without our grammars, and you set me the same imposition before for not having one with me at the time."

"What is it to you what I did the last time time?" demanded the doctor. "I may do one thing to day and the contrary tomorrow, for all I know."

"Very likely, sir," responded Wicks.

"Don't be insolent, you beast, or I'll flog you on the spot. Go down, sir, and take care how you answer me."

Wicks jumped nimbly down, and turned away. Here the doctor caught a glance of the pig-tail. "Come back!" he exclaimed.

The unconscious Wicks felt himself roughly seized by the hair, which was pulled so unmercifully by the doctor, that he put up his hands in an agony, and felt the pig-tail. "It wasn't me, sir; and I don't deserve to be treated so, for it wasn't my fault."

The next morning Dr. Buzby's desk was found to have been broken open. It contained a very putrid cat, an old wig with the hair singed off it, two or three chopped onions (the doctor never could bear the smell of them), a living rat, and certain other substances which I cannot mention. Of course Wicks proved an alibi, and knew nothing at all of the matter.

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