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Memories Grave and Gay

Since my retirement from the public service five years ago, suggestions have been frequently made to me by a number of my friends about putting into shape reminiscences of my official life, extending over more than thirty-six years. To these suggestions I have till now turned a deaf ear, from a feeling that my experience presents few events of sufficiently outstanding interest to warrant my adopting them. This feeling is not materially changed, and I have grave doubts as to whether I am acting wisely in at length agreeing to do what my friends advise. They urge that my service has been the longest of all who have been inspectors of schools in Scotland ; that I am the only one now alive who has had a share in the almost countless alterations and improvements in the work of the Education Department, from what may fairly be called its infancy, when only embryo codes had as yet existence, up to the present time; that, in addition to strictly official work, I have examined almost all the secondary schools in Scotland;
that every county in Scotland has been more or less immediately under my charge, as either a district or chief inspector; that I have been classical examiner for degrees in Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, and have given evidence before all the important Education Commissions, the last being the recent one on Secondary Education in England. This is quite true, but I am far from feeling certain that it is sufficient to warrant my rushing into print at a time when, more than ever before, it is true that of making many books there is no end.

It is possible that what I have to say may be interesting to some, and not unprofitable to others, but the consideration that has had most weight with me in making me take up my pen is, that I shall recall to memory many incidents in themselves commonplace it may be and almost colourless, but around which cluster many very pleasant recollections.

I may have occasion to refer to many old friends, but I shall endeavour to avoid such references as may give offence.

A man could scarcely have wandered over practically the whole of Scotland so long and so often as I have, without seeing some things and meeting some people with something noteworthy about them. I should be pleased to have the knack of presenting them in their proper relations, with a correct sense of proportion, and in happy phrase. My observations will not be confined to matters scholastic, but may diverge on occasion into lines social, clerical, and general. Illustration by means of anecdote may often be resorted to as the shortest, most graphic, and most memorable mode of exhibiting salient points of character. There is perhaps no scarcer commodity than a good new anecdote. To my intimate friends a large proportion of mine will want the charm of novelty, but there are probably others outside of that circle to whom they will not seem so hoary and weather-worn.

I do not propose to deal with technical topics that have been discussed ad nauseam in educational magazines, nor, except incidentally, to go outside of my own experience. I may have occasion now and then to make remarks on educational subjects that will appeal more to the teacher than the general reader, but such occasions will be comparatively few, both because I have not, so far as I know, any pet fads to exploit, and because it would be very foolish to make certain what, in spite of my best efforts, is perhaps only too probable, that this little volume should be consigned to the limbo of unread or unreadable books. Educational deliverances are notoriously dull. My aim will be a plain common-sense narrative of some things I have observed, approved, blamed, or laughed at during the last forty years.

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