This composition revolves around a central image
of a man who has removed his hat, and is bowing with his left hand held
close to his chest. He is surrounded by young children, both male and
female, in various positions. On the left, a disheveled and anxious looking
young boy removes his hat as he enters the room. A heavily bolted door
frames both the young boy and a little dog that follows him in. Framing
the central figures, a large open window reveals a brightly-lit hill and
trees. The floor is made up of large flat stones.
The central figure, as he bows, reveals
his balding head and spectacles. In front of him appears to be a podium
that has a small blackboard and some rags hanging in front. A yellow pitcher
rests on a tree stump in front of the podium. A bonneted and matronly
looking woman sits in a corner behind the bowed man.
The surrounding children affect various
poses. The standing young girls look fairly placid. The tallest and most
virtuous of them is wearing a white garment, and holds a book in her left
hand. Her right hand held to her chest mimics the bowing figure. A younger
curly haired girl bends to observe the action of the entering child. The
three young boys in the right center do not face the viewer. Our attention
is drawn to the entering child who does. He is standing in a slightly
contrapostal pose, indicating movement. His eyes glance sideways to the
bowed figure. His left hand grasps his book while his right reaches for
his hat, revealing a flowing crop of blond hair. Two curious onlookers
peer over his shoulder.
At a time when educational reforms were being
recognized, this painting reflects a contemporary middle class view of
a rural school. In the drama of the scene, the schoolmaster mocks the
entering young boy by bowing, removing his hat and holding his hand to
his chest. The boy, through his anxious looks, knows not only of his crime
of lateness, but also of the sarcasm and ridicule that is sure to follow.
The standing young girls are involved in the action of the schoolmaster,
while the seated boys appear to make haste with their schoolwork. All
attention is focused on this young boy and the outcome of his tardiness.
The schoolroom holds more compelling information
of the era and the idea of rural schools. The room is sparse and maintains
an air of harshness due to the stone floors and dark rigid wooden walls.
The door, fitted with several dead bolts, relays an attitude of the schoolroom
being a fortress. The large window in the background contrasts this idea
with its colorful idyllic natural scene. The generally overcrowded nature
of the schoolroom itself is superseded by the drama being played out within.
in boys, even of good abilities, seems to me to be a growing fault,
and I do not know to what to ascribe it, except to the great number
of exciting books of amusements, like Pickwick and Nickleby, Bentley’s
Magazine, etc., etc. These completely satisfy all the intellectual appetite
of a boy, which is rarely very voracious, and leave him totally palled
not only for his regular work
but for good literature of all sorts,
even for history and for poetry.
Arnold; letter to the Reverend G. Cornish, 1839
position of a schoolmaster in society
has not yet obtained that
respect in England, as to be able to stand by himself in public opinion
as a liberal profession; it owes the rank which it holds to its connection
with the profession of a clergyman, for that is acknowledged universally
in England to be the profession of a gentleman. Mere teaching, like
mere literature, places a man, I think, in rather an equivocal position;
he holds no undoubted station in society by these alone; for neither
education nor literature have ever enjoyed that consideration and general
respect in England which they enjoy in France and in Germany. But a
far higher consideration is this, that he who is to educate boys, if
he is fully sensible of the importance of his business, must be unwilling
to lose such great opportunities as the clerical character gives him,
by enabling him to address them continually from the pulpit, and to
administer the Communion to them as they become old enough to receive
Arnold; Miscellaneous Works, 1845