Relates the stories of ten boys who lived at vastly different times and places in history, giving the reader an excellent introduction to the important epochs in the world's history. Through these imaginary characters, the book gives vivid pictures of the conditions of life at different periods of the world's development and fosters an appreciation of all history stories which may afterward be read.
"Among these boys was Roger Barker, the merchant's son."
Jane Andrews' School
So many children and their teachers all over the country have become friends of my sister, Jane Andrews, through their interest in her books, that I thought it might give them pleasure to hear some account of the school which she taught for over twenty-five years—the pupils of which she had in mind in all her writing. This school was begun in an upper chamber in our old home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where a distant glimpse of the ocean could be seen through a side window, and the roar of the breakers could be heard in the winter storms. The front windows of this room look out on a broad, quiet street, running along the ridge of a hill that slopes to the Merrimac river. High above the windows tower two great trees that shade the front of the house, an English linden and a horse-chestnut, each about eighty years old. Down the whole length of the side yard is a long row of purple lilacs; under their shade the school-children played in summer, and in winter built snow forts beneath their bare branches. Here they had fierce snowball battles, which Miss Andrews enjoyed from the school-room window. When the warm sun of the winter afternoon broke down the walls of the fort and destroyed the ammunition, she wove it into a play lesson. The sun with his lances of heat conquered the frost giants, and, in the disguise of invisible vapor, carried them as prisoners to his realm of the sky. These prisoners escape some day and return to earth as rain or snow.
The children who heard these lessons, so full of joyous play, never forgot the round of atmospheric changes. This is but one of the many ways in which everyday life was woven into a lesson. The wonderful workings of nature became vital truths to these children, and their eyes opened to the world around them. As the school increased in size, my sister, who had first started it as an experiment, realized what a delight it was becoming to her to enter into the lives of children, and that it meant for her years of teaching. She decided to fit up the upper chamber of our barn, a large airy room, for a school-room. And here she taught for many years, though she moved her school back into the house during the later years of her life. This barn opened into the same lilac-shaded yard that I have described, and the back and side windows overlooked an old-fashioned, terraced garden, shaded by peach and apple trees. Desks were built all round this room and chairs of all sizes and shapes put before them. At one side was a square soapstone stove, which could be used as an open fire, and overhead were the heavy beams bracing the roof, with the holes near their center, where our swing used to hang when we were children, and where the school-children, as I remember, at times had a swing which they used at recess. Near the middle of the room was Miss Andrews' table, and behind her a long blackboard, which almost always contained the illustration of some lesson. Over the west window, in the most prominent place in the room, was the guiding motto, "Self-Control," the gospel that Miss Andrews cared most to teach, the truth that no outside help is of any use to us, unless the forces within are held with a strong hand, and that we ourselves are the shapers of our own lives.
Each day, on the board, she wrote some motto of helpfulness, many of them pointed to this end; sometimes a verse of poetry, sometimes a quotation from the Bible, all having reference to every-day life. "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city" was one of her favorites. Other mottoes were: "Whatever is brought upon thee, take cheerfully." "The bee is little among such as fly, but her fruit is first among sweet things." "First deserve and then desire." "Wisdom is better than weapons of war." "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth." "Weigh thy words in a balance and make a door and a bar for thy mouth." These mottoes and many more were brought into practical working every day. They were indelibly imprinted on the children's memories, not by study and repetition, but by talks of their meaning and interest in their application. Many a child has come joyously to her to tell of success in using one of these precepts, thus saving herself from doing wrong, and this joy was not one of self-glorification, but the deep satisfaction of living in the spirit of Miss Andrews' teaching. Helpfulness was one of the lessons which this school taught, both in theory and practice.
And in this connection let me tell you of a little Christmas celebration which the children and their teacher held—I think it was the Christmas of 1863. My sister had talked with the children of the significance of Christmas, the message of "Peace on earth, good will to men," and the happiness of making this a season in which we bring joy to others. She planned with them a Christmas tree, to which they should each bring a guest, some poor child who needed help and was not likely otherwise to have presents. They planned that the responsibility of each child for her guest should include a cordial personal invitation, an escort to the school, and two presents, one for use and one for pleasure. To add to this, my sister provided bountiful refreshments for all. The children entered into the plan with enthusiasm, and about two o'clock the day before Christmas the quaint little procession, straggling along by twos and twos, came into the yard. Each pupil was dressed in her school attire, not to widen the division between her and her poorer guest. Up they streamed into the school-room, each pupil full of responsibility. I can see them now, as I recall it, some tiny girl leading by the hand a great, clumsy guest, perhaps twice her size, whom she cared for like a baby, seeing to her hood and mittens, and being very anxious for fear her feet were wet. All this the guests received in a sort of dazed wonder, which changed to smiles and satisfaction when the curtain across the room was withdrawn and the tree revealed. Then each child's name was called, accompanied by that of her guest, and she received from the tree the presents which she herself had provided for her protégé, and decked "her child," as she called her, in new hood, or shawl, or cloak, with perhaps an extra pair of mittens for the little brother at home, or a soft ball for the baby sister too small to come. Then the books and pictures and work-boxes and baskets showered down from the tree, helped by willing hands, and it was hard to tell which were the more joyous faces, those of giver or receiver; but that day was long bright in both their memories, and the lesson that the best charity not only included alms but a friend, was practically learned.
But, in attending to outside charities and philanthropies, my sister never forgot the home-life of her little school. The relation was that of a harmonious family, in which the daily pleasures and toils of each member are of vital interest to all. Through all those years of teaching, Miss Andrews laid great stress on interesting the children in good stories, as a line of reading which a child is sure to follow and in which she needs direction. (I have used "she" for my pronoun throughout, but my sister had both boys and girls in her school.) Kingsley's "Westward Ho!" Mrs. Shaw's "Castle Blair" and "Hector," and Mrs. Ewing's "Great Emergency," are some of the books which I remember her reading to the school. And each of these books was not merely read, but made to serve a purpose through the talks which she encouraged the children to have with her about them, and the lessons drawn from them. She set great value on the acquisition of a store of good poetry.
From our earliest childhood our father had loved to repeat poems to us, as we sat on his knee by the open fire. His interest lay mostly in the Scotch and English ballads, and Scott's poems; and many a canto of the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," besides scores of old ballads, were stored in our memories. This power of remembering poetry has always been such a source of pleasure to us, and we traced it back so directly to our early training, that my sister placed a high value on such training for her pupils; and many of them in after-life have traced their facility for memorizing, as well as their store of delightful poetry, back to that barn chamber and Miss Andrews' school.
Although in her own school days, mathematics had been her chief interest, yet the teaching of geography was her specialty. Many and various were the devices by which she made this study fascinating to the children. A lifeless skeleton of descriptions was not her idea of the necessary knowledge of a country. The dry facts were nothing without the breath of life poured into them. And this she did by tracing each fact into its intricate relations. The rice of the South Carolina swamps, the cotton of the Sea Islands, the exports of Bombay and Calcutta, the coffee from Mocha and Java, all had their story, their connections with lands and peoples—and the interweaving of the great commercial interests of the world. Pictures, books of travel, biographies, and scientific investigations all lent their aid as materials in her hands, brought forward in such a form that they appealed to the children. The little girl whose aunt was in Florida presented the school with a pet alligator; the children of an India merchant, sent back to his native town for an education, brought stories of life in India and summer in the Himalayas; the little girl who had taken voyages with her sea-captain father brought tales of the ocean and life in foreign ports as her contribution to this very real geography; and so the whole world poured its treasures into this little barn chamber, and kept the children in sympathy with the daily life of the world and the bond of mutual helpfulness in which we all live.
Nor were the physical phenomena forgotten. Those were endowed with living interest, as all those will know who have read "Sea-Life" (Stories Mother Nature Told), in which my sister makes the gulf stream and the formation of coral islands real to the children. She often vivified the lessons of their physical geography by connecting them with events in which the children had an interest, and thus the association aided the memory and encouraged further investigation when similar events came to their notice in the news from various parts of the world. For this reason the daily papers ceased, in a measure, to demoralize by their fund of unwholesome gossip, and the children's interest was drawn to the marine column, with the arrival of the swift fruit steamer, Jehu, from the West Indies, or the Victoria, from Bombay, laden with saltpeter, telling the story of the commercial interests of the world. The grumblings of Vesuvius and the drifting of the Arctic explorers on their ice island, after the loss of the Polaris, were eagerly related by the children, and the forces of nature which governed all this recognized and enthusiastically appreciated by them.
But the great lesson which Miss Andrews taught was a moral one, the lesson that brings more "sweetness and light" and brotherly love and helpfulness into the world. She sent out from that school, boys and girls who felt their moral responsibility and their relation to their fellow-beings. Her children, as she called them, are now scattered all over the length and breadth of the United States, glad to lend a helping hand, acknowledging in this way their bond to their teacher.
|MARGARET ANDREWS ALLEN.|
In preparing this little book my purpose has been threefold.
First, To show my boy readers that the boys of long ago are not to be looked upon as strangers, but were just as much boys as themselves.
Second, In this age of self-complacency, to exhibit, for their contemplation and imitation, some of those manly virtues that stern necessity bred in her children.
Third, To awaken by my simple stories an interest in the lives and deeds of our ancestors, that shall stimulate the young reader to a study of those peoples from whom he has descended, and to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for the inheritance they have handed down to him.
As it has been my intention to trace our own race from its Aryan source to its present type I have not turned aside to consider other races, perhaps not less interesting, with the single exception of the incidental introduction of the Hebrews in connection with the Persians.
It is scarcely possible for me to make a list of all the authorities I have consulted in preparing this little book; but I wish to say that without the assistance of the valuable work by Eugene Viollet Le Duc on the "Habitations of Man in all Ages," I could not have written the Aryan chapter.
NEWBURYPORT, Sept. 29, 1885.