The Irish Schoolmaster by Thomas Hood


Alack! ’tis melancholy theme to think
How Learning doth in rugged states abide,
And, like her bashful owl, obscurely blink,
In pensive glooms and corners, scarcely spied;
Not, as in Founders’ Halls and domes of pride,
Served with grave homage, like a tragic queen,
But with one lonely priest compell’d to hide,
In midst of foggy moors and mosses green,
In that clay cabin hight the College of Kilreen!


This College looketh South and West alsoe,
Because it hath a cast in windows twain;
Crazy and crack’d they be, and wind doth blow
Through transparent holes in every pane,
Which Pan, with many paines, makes whole again
With nether garments, which his thrift doth teach
To stand for glass, like pronouns, and when rain
Stormeth, he puts, “once more unto the breach,”
Outside and in, tho’ broke, yet so he mendeth each.


And in the midst a little door there is,
Whereon a board that doth congratulate
With painted letters, red as blood I wis,
Thus written,
And oft, indeed, the inward of that gate,
Most ventriloque, doth utter tender squeak,
And moans of infants that bemoan their fate,
In midst of sounds of Latin, French, and Greek,
Which, all i’ the Irish tongue, he teacheth them to speak.


For some are meant to right illegal wrongs,
And some for Doctors of Divinitie,
Whom he doth teach to murder the dead tongues,
And soe win academical degree;
But some are bred for service of the sea,
Howbeit, their store of learning is but small,
For mickle waste he counteth it would be
To stock a head with bookish wares at all,
Only to be knock’d off by ruthless cannon-ball.


Six babes he sways,–some little and some big,
Divided into classes six; alsoe,
He keeps a parlor boarder of a pig,
That in the College fareth to and fro,
And picketh up the urchins’ crumbs below,
And eke the learned rudiments they scan,
And thus his A, B, C, doth wisely know,–
Hereafter to be shown in caravan,
And raise the wonderment of many a learned man.

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Alsoe, he schools some tame familiar fowls,
Whereof, above his head, some two or three
Sit darkly squatting, like Minerva’s owls,
But on the branches of no living tree,
And overlook the learned family;
While, sometimes, Partlet, from her gloomy perch,
Drops feather on the nose of Dominie,
Meanwhile, with serious eye, he makes research
In leaves of that sour tree of knowledge–now a birch.


No chair he hath, the awful Pedagogue,
Such as would magisterial hams imbed,
But sitteth lowly on a beechen log,
Secure in high authority and dread:
Large, as a dome for Learning, seems his head,
And, like Apollo’s, all beset with rays,
Because his locks are so unkempt and red,
And stand abroad in many several ways:–
No laurel crown he wears, howbeit his cap is baize.


And, underneath, a pair of shaggy brows
O’erhang as many eyes of gizzard hue,
That inward giblet of a fowl, which shows
A mongrel tint, that is ne brown ne blue;
His nose,–it is a coral to the view;
Well nourish’d with Pierian Potheen,–
For much he loves his native mountain dew;–
But to depict the dye would lack, I ween,
A bottle-red, in terms, as well as bottle-green.


As for his coat, ’tis such a jerkin short
As Spenser had, ere he composed his Tales;
But underneath he hath no vest, nor aught,
So that the wind his airy breast assails;
Below, he wears the nether garb of males,
Of crimson plush, but non-plushed at the knee;–
Thence further down the native red prevails,
Of his own naked fleecy hosierie:–
Two sandals, without soles, complete his cap-a-pie.


Nathless, for dignity, he now doth lap
His function in a magisterial gown,
That shows more countries in it than a map,–
Blue tinct, and red, and green, and russet brown,
Besides some blots, standing for country-town;
And eke some rents, for streams and rivers wide;
But, sometimes, bashful when he looks adown,
He turns the garment of the other side,
Hopeful that so the holes may never be espied!


And soe he sits, amidst the little pack,
That look for shady or for sunny noon,
Within his visage, like an almanack,–
His quiet smile foretelling gracious boon:
But when his mouth droops down, like rainy moon,
With horrid chill each little heart unwarms,
Knowing that infant show’rs will follow soon,
And with forebodings of near wrath and storms
They sit, like timid hares, all trembling on their forms.

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Ah! luckless wight, who cannot then repeat
“Corduroy Colloquy,”–or “Ki, Kae, Kod,”–
Full soon his tears shall make his turfy seat
More sodden, tho’ already made of sod,
For Dan shall whip him with the word of God,–
Severe by rule, and not by nature mild,
He never spoils the child and spares the rod,
But spoils the rod and never spares the child,
And soe with holy rule deems he is reconcil’d.


But, surely, the just sky will never wink
At men who take delight in childish throe,
And stripe the nether-urchin like a pink
Or tender hyacinth, inscribed with woe;
Such bloody Pedagogues, when they shall know,
By useless birches, that forlorn recess,
Which is no holiday, in Pit below,
Will hell not seem design’d for their distress,–
A melancholy place, that is all bottomlesse?


Yet would the Muse not chide the wholesome use
Of needful discipline, in due degree.
Devoid of sway, what wrongs will time produce,
Whene’er the twig untrained grows up a tree.
This shall a Carder, that a Whiteboy be,
Ferocious leaders of atrocious bands,
And Learning’s help be used for infamie,
By lawless clerks, that, with their bloody hands,
In murder’d English write Rock’s murderous commands.


But ah! what shrilly cry doth now alarm
The sooty fowls that dozed upon the beam,
All sudden fluttering from the brandish’d arm,
And cackling chorus with the human scream;
Meanwhile, the scourge plies that unkindly seam
In Phelim’s brogues, which bares his naked skin,
Like traitor gap in warlike fort, I deem,
That falsely lets the fierce besieger in,
Nor seeks the Pedagogue by other course to win.


No parent dear he hath to heed his cries;–
Alas! his parent dear is far aloof,
And deep in Seven-Dial cellar lies,
Killed by kind cudgel-play, or gin of proof,
Or climbeth, catwise, on some London roof,
Singing, perchance, a lay of Erin’s Isle,
Or, whilst he labors, weaves a fancy-woof,
Dreaming he sees his home,–his Phelim smile;–
Ah me! that luckless imp, who weepeth all the while!

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Ah! who can paint that hard and heavy time,
When first the scholar lists in Learning’s train,
And mounts her rugged steep, enforc’d to climb,
Like sooty imp, by sharp posterior pain,
From bloody twig, and eke that Indian cane,
Wherein, alas! no sugar’d juices dwell,
For this, the while one stripling’s sluices drain,
Another weepeth over chilblains fell,
Always upon the heel, yet never to be well!


Anon a third, for his delicious root,
Late ravish’d from his tooth by elder chit,
So soon is human violence afoot,
So hardly is the harmless biter bit!
Meanwhile, the tyrant, with untimely wit
And mouthing face, derides the small one’s moan,
Who, all lamenting for his loss, doth sit,
Alack,–mischance comes seldomtimes alone,
But aye the worried dog must rue more curs than one.


For lo! the Pedagogue, with sudden drub,
Smites his scald-head, that is already sore,–
Superfluous wound,–such is Misfortune’s rub!
Who straight makes answer with redoubled roar,
And sheds salt tears twice faster than before,
That still, with backward fist, he strives to dry;
Washing, with brackish moisture, o’er and o’er,
His muddy cheek, that grows more foul thereby,
Till all his rainy face looks grim as rainy sky.


So Dan, by dint of noise, obtains a peace,
And with his natural untender knack,
By new distress, bids former grievance cease,
Like tears dried up with rugged huckaback,
That sets the mournful visage all awrack;
Yet soon the childish countenance will shine
Even as thorough storms the soonest slack,
For grief and beef in adverse ways incline,
This keeps, and that decays, when duly soak’d in brine.


Now all is hushed, and, with a look profound,
The Dominie lays ope the learned page;
(So be it called) although he doth expound
Without a book, both Greek and Latin sage;
Now telleth he of Rome’s rude infant age,
How Romulus was bred in savage wood,
By wet-nurse wolf, devoid of wolfish rage;
And laid foundation-stone of walls of mud,
But watered it, alas! with warm fraternal blood.

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Anon, he turns to that Homeric war,
How Troy was sieged like Londonderry town;
And stout Achilles, at his jaunting-car,
Dragged mighty Hector with a bloody crown;
And eke the bard, that sung of their renown,
In garb of Greece, most beggar-like and torn,
He paints, with colly, wand’ring up and down,
Because, at once, in seven cities born;
And so, of parish rights, was, all his days, forlorn.


Anon, through old Mythology he goes,
Of Gods defunct, and all their pedigrees,
But shuns their scandalous amours, and shows
How Plato wise, and clear-ey’d Socrates,
Confess’d not to those heathen hes and shes;
But thro’ the clouds of the Olympic cope
Beheld St. Peter, with his holy keys,
And own’d their love was naught, and bow’d to Pope,
Whilst all their purblind race in Pagan mist did grope!


From such quaint themes he turns, at last, aside,
To new philosophies, that still are green,
And shows what railroads have been track’d, to guide
The wheels of great political machine;
If English corn should grow abroad, I ween,
And gold be made of gold, or paper sheet;
How many pigs be born to each spalpeen;
And, ah! how man shall thrive beyond his meat,–
With twenty souls alive, to one square sod of peat!


Here, he makes end; and all the fry of youth,
That stood around with serious look intense,
Close up again their gaping eyes and mouth,
Which they had opened to his eloquence,
As if their hearing were a threefold sense.
But now the current of his words is done,
And whether any fruits shall spring from thence,
In future time, with any mother’s son,
It is a thing, God wot! that can be told by none.

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Now by the creeping shadows of the noon,
The hour is come to lay aside their lore;
The cheerful Pedagogue perceives it soon,
And cries, “Begone!” unto the imps,–and four
Snatch their two hats and struggle for the door,
Like ardent spirits vented from a cask,
All blithe and boisterous,–but leave two more,
With Reading made Uneasy for a task,
To weep, whilst all their mates in merry sunshine bask,


Like sportive Elfins, on the verdant sod,
With tender moss so sleekly overgrown,
That doth not hurt, but kiss, the sole unshod,
So soothly kind is Erin to her own!
And one, at Hare and Hound, plays all alone,–
For Phelim’s gone to tend his step-dame’s cow;
Ah! Phelim’s step-dame is a canker’d crone!
Whilst other twain play at an Irish row,
And, with shillelah small, break one another’s brow!


But careful Dominie, with ceaseless thrift,
Now changeth ferula for rural hoe;
But, first of all, with tender hand doth shift
His college gown, because of solar glow,
And hangs it on a bush, to scare the crow:
Meanwhile, he plants in earth the dappled bean,
Or trains the young potatoes all a-row,
Or plucks the fragrant leek for pottage green,
With that crisp curly herb, call’d Kale in Aberdeen.


And so he wisely spends the fruitful hours,
Linked each to each by labor, like a bee;
Or rules in Learning’s hall, or trims her bow’rs;–
Would there were many more such wights as he,
To sway each capital academie
Of Cam and Isis; for, alack! at each
There dwells, I wot, some dronish Dominie,
That does no garden work, nor yet doth teach,
But wears a floury head, and talks in flow’ry speech!

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