John Craven's Method
From: Glengarry Schooldays
Mr. John Craven could not be said to take his school-teaching seriously;
and indeed, any one looking at his face would hardly expect him to take
anything seriously, and certainly those who in his college days followed
and courted and kept pace with Jack Craven, and knew his smile, would
have expected from him anything other than seriousness. He appeared
to himself to be enacting a kind of grim comedy, exile as he was in a
foreign land, among people of a strange tongue.
He knew absolutely nothing of pedagogical method, and consequently he
ignored all rules and precedents in the teaching and conduct of the
school. His discipline was of a most fantastic kind. He had a feeling
that all lessons were a bore, therefore he would assign the shortest and
easiest of tasks. But having assigned the tasks, he expected perfection
in recitation, and impressed his pupils with the idea that nothing less
would pass. His ideas of order were of the loosest kind, and hence the
noise at times was such that even the older pupils found it unbearable;
but when the hour for recitation came, somehow a deathlike stillness
fell upon the school, and the unready shivered with dread apprehension.
And yet he never thrashed the boys; but his fear lay upon them, for his
eyes held the delinquent with such an intensity of magnetic, penetrating
power that the unhappy wretch felt as if any kind of calamity might
When one looked at John Craven's face, it was the eyes that caught and
held the attention. They were black, without either gleam or glitter,
indeed almost dull--a lady once called them "smoky eyes." They looked,
under lazy, half-drooping lids, like things asleep, except in moments
of passion, when there appeared, far down, a glowing fire, red and
terrible. At such moments it seemed as if, looking through these, one
were catching sight of a soul ablaze. They were like the dull glow of a
furnace through an inky night.
He was constitutionally and habitually lazy, but in a reading lesson he
would rouse himself at times, and by his utterance of a single line
make the whole school sit erect. Friday afternoon he gave up to what he
called "the cultivation of the finer arts." On that afternoon he would
bring his violin and teach the children singing, hear them read and
recite, and read for them himself; and no greater punishment could be
imposed upon the school than the loss of this afternoon.
"Man alive! Thomas, he's mighty queer," Hughie explained to his friend.
"When he sits there with his feet on the stove smoking away and reading
something or other, and letting them all gabble like a lot of ducks,
it just makes me mad. But when he wakes up he puts the fear of death on
you, and when he reads he makes you shiver through and through. You know
that long rigmarole, 'Friends, Romans, countrymen'? I used to hate
it. Well, sir, he told us about it last Friday. You know, on Friday
afternoons we don't do any work, but just have songs and reading, and
that sort of thing. Well, sir, last Friday he told us about the big row
in Rome, and how Caesar was murdered, and then he read that thing to
us. By gimmini whack! it made me hot and cold. I could hardly keep from
yelling, and every one was white. And then he read that other thing, you
know, about Little Nell. Used to make me sick, but, my goodness alive!
do you know, before he got through the girls were wiping their eyes, and
I was almost as bad, and you could have heard a pin drop. He's mighty
queer, though, lazy as the mischief, and always smiling and smiling, and
yet you don't feel like smiling back."
"Do you like him?" asked Thomas, bluntly.
"Dunno. I'd like to, but he won't let you, somehow. Just smiles at you,
and you feel kind of small."
The reports about the master were conflicting and disquieting, and
although Hughie was himself doubtful, he stood up vehemently for him at
"But, Hughie," protested the minister, discussing these reports, "I am
told that he actually smokes in school."
Hughie was silent.
"Answer me! Does he smoke in school hours?"
"Well," confessed Hughie, reluctantly, "he does sometimes, but only
after he gives us all our work to do."
"Smoke in school hours!" ejaculated Mrs. Murray, horrified.
"Well, what's the harm in that? Father smokes."
"But he doesn't smoke when he is preaching," said the mother.
"No, but he smokes right afterwards."
"But not in church."
"Well, perhaps not in church, but school's different. And anyway, he
makes them read better, and write better too," said Hughie, stoutly.
"Certainly," said his father, "he is a most remarkable man. A most
"What about your sums, Hughie?" asked his mother.
"Don't know. He doesn't bother much with that sort of thing, and I'm
just as glad."
"You ought really to speak to him about it," said Mrs. Murray, after
Hughie had left the room.
"Well, my dear," said the minister, smiling, "you heard what Hughie
said. It would be rather awkward for me to speak to him about smoking. I
think, perhaps, you had better do it."
"I am afraid," said his wife, with a slight laugh, "it would be just as
awkward for me. I wonder what those Friday afternoons of his mean," she
"I am sure I don't know, but everywhere throughout the section I hear
the children speak of them. We'll just drop in and see. I ought to visit
the school, you know, very soon."
And so they did. The master was surprised, and for a moment appeared
uncertain what to do. He offered to put the classes through their
regular lessons, but at once there was a noisy outcry against this on
the part of the school, which, however, was effectually and immediately
quelled by the quiet suggestion on the master's part that anything but
perfect order would be fatal to the programme. And upon the minister
requesting that the usual exercises proceed, the master smilingly
"We make Friday afternoons," he said, "at once a kind of reward day for
good work during the week, and an opportunity for the cultivation of
some of the finer arts."
And certainly he was a master in this business. He had strong dramatic
instincts, and a remarkable power to stimulate and draw forth the
When the programme of singing, recitations, and violin-playing was
finished, there were insistent calls on every side for "Mark Antony." It
appeared to be the 'piece de resistance' in the minds of the children.
"What does this mean?" inquired the minister, as the master stood
smiling at his pupils.
"Oh, they are demanding a little high tragedy," he said, "which I
sometimes give them. It assists in their reading lessons," he explained,
apologetically, and with that he gave them what Hughie called, "that
rigmarole beginning, 'Friends, Romans, countrymen,'" Mark Antony's
"Well," said the minister, as they drove away from the school, "what do
you think of that, now?"
"Marvelous!" exclaimed his wife. "What dramatic power, what insight,
"You may say so," exclaimed her husband. "What an actor he would make!"
"Yes," said his wife, "or what a minister he would make! I understand,
now, his wonderful influence over Hughie, and I am afraid."
"O, he can't do Hughie any harm with things like that," replied her
"No, but Hughie now and then repeats some of his sayings about--about
religion and religious convictions, that I don't like. And then he is
hanging about that Twentieth store altogether too much, and I fancied
I noticed something strange about him last Friday evening when he came
home so late."
"O, nonsense," said the minister. "His reputation has prejudiced you,
and that is not fair, and your imagination does the rest."
"Well, it is a great pity that he should not do something with himself,"
replied his wife. "There are great possibilities in that young man."
"He does not take himself seriously enough," said her husband. "That is
the chief trouble with him."
And this was apparently Jack Craven's opinion of himself, as is evident
from his letter to his college friend, Ned Maitland.
"For the last two months I have been seeking to adjust myself to my
surroundings, and find it no easy business. I have struck the land
of the Anakim, for the inhabitants are all of 'tremenjous' size, and
indeed, 'tremenjous' in all their ways, more particularly in their
religion. Religion is all over the place. You are liable to come upon a
boy anywhere perched on a fence corner with a New Testament in his hand,
and on Sunday the 'tremenjousness' of their religion is overwhelming.
Every other interest in life, as meat, drink, and dress, are purely
incidental to the main business of the day, which is the delivering,
hearing, and discussing of sermons.
"The padre, at whose house I am very happily quartered, is a
'tremenjous' preacher. He has visions, and gives them to me. He gives
me chills and thrills as well, and has discovered to me a conscience, a
portion of my anatomy that I had no suspicion of possessing.
"The congregation is like the preacher. They will sit for two hours,
and after a break of a few minutes they will sit again for two hours,
listening to sermons; and even the interval is somewhat evenly divided
between their bread and cheese in the churchyard and the discussion of
the sermon they have just listened to. They are great on theology. One
worthy old party tackled me on my views of the sermon we had just heard;
after a little preliminary sparring I went to my corner. I often wonder
in what continent I am.
"The school, a primitive little log affair, has much run to seed, but
offers opportunity for repose. I shall avoid any unnecessary excitement
in this connection.
"In private life the padre is really very decent. We have great smokes
together, and talks. On all subjects he has very decided opinions, and
in everything but religion, liberal views. I lure him into philosophic
discussions, and overwhelm him with my newest and biggest metaphysical
terms, which always reduce his enormous cocksureness to more reasonable
"The minister's wife is quite another proposition. She argues, too,
but unfortunately she asks questions, in the meekest way possible
acknowledging her ignorance of my big terms, and insisting upon
definitions and exact meanings, and then it's all over with me. How
she ever came to this far land, heaven knows, and none but heaven can
explain such waste. Having no kindred soul to talk with, I fancy she
enjoys conversation with myself, (sic) revels in music, is transported
to the fifth heaven by my performance on the violin, but evidently
pities me and regards me as dangerous. But, my dear Maitland, after
a somewhat wide and varied experience of fine ladies, I give you my
verdict that here among the Anakim, and in this wild, woody land, is
a lady fine and fair and saintly. She will bother me, I know. Her son
Hughie (he of the bear), of whom I told you, the lad with the face of
an angel and the temper of an angel, but of a different color--her son
Hughie she must make into a scholar. And no wonder, for already he has
attained a remarkable degree of excellence, by the grace, not of the
little log school, however, I venture to shy. His mother has been at
him. But now she feels that something more is needed, and for that
she turns to me. You will be able to see the humor of it, but not the
pathos. She wants to make a man out of her boy, 'a noble, pure-hearted
gentleman,' and this she lays upon me! Did I hear you laugh? Smile not,
it is the most tragic of pathos. Upon me, Jack Craven, the despair of
the professors, the terror of the watch, the--alas! you know only too
well. My tongue clave to the roof of my mouth, and before I could cry,
'Heaven forbid that I should have a hand in the making of your boy!'
she accepted my pledge to do her desire for her young angel with the
"And now, my dear Ned, is it for my sins that I am thus pursued? What
is awaiting me I know not. What I shall do with the young cub I have
not the ghostliest shadow of an idea. Shall I begin by thrashing him
soundly? I have refrained so far; I hate the role of executioner. Or
shall I teach him boxing? The gloves are a great educator, and are at
times what the padre would call 'means of grace.'
"But what will become of me? Shall I become prematurely aged, or shall I
become a saint? Expect anything from your most devoted, but most sorely
bored and perplexed,
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