The Story of a Great Schoolmaster: Sanderson of Oundle

by H. G. Wells. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1924. 12mo. x + 176 pp. $1.50.
No one is likely to regret the fact that Mr. Wells discovered in an English schoolmaster the one man whose character inspired this versatile writer to pen a biography. Nor is it surprising that the man who thus tempted Mr. Wells to depart from his accustomed paths and who won the author’s unique tribute, ‘I think him beyond question the greatest man I have ever known with any degree of intimacy,’ should have been one who sought new paths in education and who longed to have his pupils inspired with the desire to ‘live dangerously.’ To the writer and the subject of his biography there was much in common, much that would naturally draw them together in mutual sympathy and esteem.
Mr. Wells has rendered a conspicuous service to the cause of education in picturing so grippingly a leader whose ideals and courage forced him to turn his back unhesitatingly on long-established customs, to break squarely with cherished traditions, and to strike out boldly into new and, in a large sense, untried fields.
What Mr. Sanderson sought to accomplish for education in England will be found, after all, to differ little from what has been often attempted, and with varying degrees of success, here in America. The introduction of the scientific method into all branches of study is something we have heard much about in recent years. The laboratory method of instruction is no novelty to-day. And the effort to rouse in pupils themselves a compelling interest in their work, apart from marks and examination tests, has begotten numerous methods and plans, some of which, at least, are not greatly dissimilar to those evolved by Mr. Sanderson at Oundle School. In his purpose to banish from the minds of his pupils all thoughts of competition and its questionable values, and to replace them with the supreme satisfaction derived from achievement and service alone, this very modern English schoolmaster has emphasized a factor of the deepest significance, something dimly felt by many earnest teachers but not often clearly defined.
To attempt to bring within school bounds the conditions, the problems, and the very atmosphere of the larger world outside is not really a new thing. Few good schools would admit that they do not seek to do this. Many claim this as their chief aim. It is in method mainly that the school at Oundle represents a new departure — though even here there are doubtless those who will dispute the claim of novelty.
But, after all, it is Sanderson the man, perhaps, rather than Sanderson the schoolmaster that chiefly interests Mr. Wells. And it is Sanderson the man who stirs the interest and admiration of the reader of this biography. Pulsating with life and energy, spurred to constant action by an alert and restless mind, vaguely conscious of great truths which cannot readily be formulated in words or translated into satisfactory achievement, Sanderson of Oundle awakens our interest and stirs our sympathy as we strive with him to visualize the ideal and formulate the methods needed for its attainment. Kindred spirits, these two, it would seem — for has not this eminent biographer himself aroused at times very similar emotions within us all?