A Defense of Dogberry


IT seems to me that the gentleman who recently published, in the Contributors’ Club, “Dogberry in the College Classroom,” Verges on dangerous ground. In the drama from which he took his parallel there were two defective mentalities, one older than the other. Was it not Verges who helped bring Dogberry to this pass (or did Dogberry in real life fail to pass) ? I am sure that it was not hilarity, but remorse, which urged the guilty teacher to dangle before the public such visible et risible tokens of his own mis-speut hours.

Those of us who are teachers have an uneasy suspicion that we are not infallible; our students, in their secret tribunals, do not spare us. Therefore, when pious Eld unmuzzles his wisdom he must beware lest he too prove that thing unknown even in Wall Street, — a laughing-stock. Dogberry may well point with accusing finger at his teacher and say, “I am your own progeny of learning.” Are there not on record jokes just as amusing as any of the mistakes of youthful students ? May not a student smile grimly at the personal touch in this statement, about a course in zoölogy, extracted from the catalogue of a leading American college ? “ Course B, open to juniors and seniors, is parallel to course A, open to freshmen and sophomores; course B does for vertebrates what course A does for invertebrates.”

I can recall the laughter roused in my student days by notices given out in chapel. Mr. — will lecture on View of the Hills of Palestine on Horseback. — One day during Thanksgiving week a teacher, leading chapel, announced that there would be that week a missionary meeting, at which it was hoped there would be special thought and prayer for Turkey. I could reveal other reminiscences from my undergraduate days, but I live now in a glass house.

Certainly Dogberry has power of retaliation, and in more ways than one. Formerly I, too, jested over the errors of my pupils. Intrenched in my knowledge, I read to classes extracts from their papers, and I laughed aloud over their ill-considered answers. But Nemesis, in the shape of a student assistant who read papers for me, changed all that. This embodiment of justice prepared for me a little volume, beautifully written, in which were carefully set down all the laughable blunders of my students, in a recent examination. With an irony cruel and unrelenting, heads and sub-heads were arranged in such a fashion as to cast hideous aspersion on my teaching. There they stand, the things that I have taught so badly, so carelessly. There are the records of my inefficiency. That book has been to me an incentive, a scourge. It is the most satirical production I have ever read.

Here are some of the results of my pedagogical career. Teachers will see, at a glance, that in every instance the pupil had done her best. And let me remark that these are the works of college girls, and show, when compared with the Dogberrian literature, the difference between the feminine and the masculine mind. The boy cares little for even a semblance of in telligence in his answers; he blurts out any grotesque fancy. The girl is far more wary and careful of appearances; she answers tentatively, groping for something that will sound well, and her mistakes have not the bold inconsequence of the boy’s, but, rather, a finished, serpentine evasiveness.

“ An elegy is a form of poem which usually consists in a scene of struggle. It is comprised of much action. A hero is usually the main feature.” — “ An elegy is usually brief and the style is not copied.”—“An elegy is a lament upon the mental and moral state of the author.” — “Anglo-Saxon is literature from the German scholars.” —“The English race was made up of three peoples. The Saxons were a dreamy, happy, beautiful people. They came into England in hoards. The Romans brought in the responsibilities of life. The Celts were a contrarydispositioned people.” — “The Reformation produced such writers as Crammer who wrote the prayer-book, a charming and dignified piece of literature.” — “ John Wiclif was the father of argumentation.”— “ Miracle plays were given on church holidays and everybody went in great throngs, not only because they felt drawn to them, which they certainly did, for they had much the same effect as modern evangelistic meetings in extreme cases.” — “ Bede was the author of Cædmon, a very familiar work. An angle appeared to him in his sleep and requested him to sing.”—“Chaucer described a band of pilgrims who were journeying to the Holy Land to pay their religious respects.” — “ His style is neither very swift nor very slow.” — “ In the description of the Prioress he is clear but complementary.” — “ He is not illiterative.” — “ All dates used in this paper are A. D.” — “ The King James Bible was translated into rime royal. This translation was an invaluable feat of Bacon’s. The Old Testament was taken from the Hebrews.” — “ This tale has a metre in every line.” — “ Richardson stands as the one who had the germ of the society novel.” — “ Popish diction was a term applied to Pope’s poetry and then to the poetry of his admiring successors. By it we understand that the piece contains many contracted words and an abusive amount of classical figures of speech.”

This is not what my pupils call “ shear raving.” Some intellect has gone into the making of these responses. No one would accuse the young of believing these monstrous absurdities; the amount of the matter is that youth does not see things in their proper relations, it has little sense of humor. If these boys and these girls knew how amusing they are, what would be left for teachers to do ? What differentiates age from youth is the power of perceiving fine shades of meaning, of detecting incompatibilities of phrase and idea. How could we teachers maintain our show of superiority were it not that the chief characteristic of our pupils is a splendid solemnity about its utterances ?

At the close of this warning to schoolmasters, let me offer, for serious reflection, a moral: —

True genuine dullness moved his pity
Unless it offered to be witty.
Those who their ignorance confes’t,
He ne’er offended with a jest.